By Dan McGrath
Some things just aren’t meant to be in life, and a .500 record for the Leo Lions in this season of basketball rebuilding apparently is one of them.
Mired in the muck of a 3-10 record five weeks ago, the Lions brought an 11-12 mark into Tuesday night’s Catholic League crossover with St. Francis de Sales at Leo. Home game, 6-15 opponent, .500 within reach … what could go wrong?
Plenty. Pile 24 turnovers atop 33-percent shooting and slow-moving defense and you don’t really give yourself a chance, even against a squad that played hard, but not particularly well.
De Sales led nearly all the way and escaped 43-41, outscoring the Lions 7-2 in the final 1:54 after Leo had overcome itself to take a 39-36 lead. But that final 1:54 was a nightmare.
After de Sales’ Tanzy James split two free throws, Leo threw away an inbounds pass which Eric Johnson ran down and converted into a game-tying layup. Emanuel Walker missed from the deep corner, and when Leo failed to get back on defense, Johnson got loose for another layup and a 41-39 Pioneers lead.
The Lions promptly muffed the inbounds play, turned it over and fouled Johnson in desperation. He was money, and the lead was four.
Marlo Moore was fouled while muscling in a shot that Leo claimed was a three-pointer with seven seconds left. It was not, but Moore would have had a three-point play if he’d made the free throw. He did not, and 43-41 stood as the final when Karon Shavers was wide with a jumper after a de Sales turnover gave Leo one final chance.
Stephen Barze had one of his best games of the season for the Lions with 13 hard-earned points, and Nate Stephens had seven rebounds and three blocks to go with his four points. Six of Moore’s team-high 10 points came in the final 1:16 for de Sales.
Coach Jamille Ridley sent the team home immediately on a school night, saying he’d speak to them on Wednesday, before the Lions depart for Riverside-Brookfield. That ought to be interesting; the Bulldogs are 20-3 and unbeaten in the Metro Suburban Conference.
In fact, Leo’s five remaining opponents are a combined 92-27 for a .773 winning percentage. And to think, .500 looked pretty good there for a minute.