By Dan McGrath
It would be easy, convenient and ultimately erroneous to ascribe the Leo Lions’ 68-62 overtime loss to Brother Rice on Friday, March 5 to fatigue … maybe the Lions left their fight in the gym while falling 65-64 in OT to Catholic League powerhouse Fenwick two nights earlier.
That explanation overlooks the fact that unbeaten Brother Rice (11-0 overall, 10-0 Catholic League) was playing its third game in three nights.
It’s more accurate to say that, despite another gallant effort, Leo’s loss was self-inflicted.
Had there been fans in the stands, they would have been incredulous as the visiting Lions (3-6) used their press to fuel a 21-2 run that transformed a 48-35 deficit into a 56-50 lead in the fourth quarter.
But, as had been the case at Fenwick, Leo failed to close the deal. The Lions missed nine of their 15 free throws, including the front end of two one-and-ones when the game was there for the taking.
The Crusaders forced overtime when sophomore guard Ahmad Henderson calmly hit two free throws for a 60-all tie with nine seconds remaining in regulation. Leo’s Tyler Smith hit the first bucket of the extra period, but the Lions wouldn’t score again. Hiccup-quick guard Brandon Bryant put up seven of Rice’s eight overtime points to keep the Crusaders unbeaten.
“Next year,” Leo coach Jamal Thompon vowed, “we’ll be the ones who are over there celebrating. We have to learn how to do it. We played well enough to win, but you can/t win if you don’t make free throws.”
Sophomore guard Ja’keem Cole made Leo’s comeback happen by scoring 11 of his career-high 25 points in the fourth quarter. He hit four three-pointers. Fellow sophomore Tyler Smith added 11 points, while junior Austin Ford scored 10 with a game-high 11 rebounds,.
Rice guards Henderson (19) and Bryant (16) combined for 35 points, attacking the basket with impunity as Leo was too often slow to get back on defense.
“I don’t know what it is with these close games,” Brother Rice coach Bobby Frasor said, “but we keep winning them.”
Leo’s sophomores slipped to 4-4 after taking a 57-29 spanking from Brother Rice in the preliminary game.