By Dan McGrath
The Loyola Academy Ramblers were a coaching manual come to life in their 50-37 Catholic League victory over the Leo Lions at Leo on Friday, February 26.
The Ramblers (8-3 overall, 5-1 Catholic League) embodied patience at both ends of the floor. They set hard picks. They made hard cuts. They disdained questionable shots. They moved, they moved, they moved, often running 20-plus seconds off the clock before even considering a shot. By the eighth or ninth time a Rambler broke to the basket, he was open for a layup.
On defense, they swarmed, playing a straight man-to-man but switching everything with help-and-recover tactics that stymied Leo. It wasn’t so much that the Lions shot poorly, it’s that they barely shot at all, squeezing off just 33 shots all night and hitting 15. Fourteen turnovers added to the hosts’ frustration on a night when the pace of the game suggested they could ill afford any.
Leo shot just six free throws, converting three. The Ramblers were 13-for-16 at the line after some slap-happy Leo defense had them shooting bonus free throws early in the final period.
Thirty-seven points represented both a season low and a moral victory for Leo (3-4): Loyola had held its first 10 opponents to 34.7 points per game. The Lions were within two (18-16) at halftime, but managed just five points in the third quarter, coming up empty on 10 of 11 possessions at one stretch as the Ramblers sneaked away.
Scotty Dean’s game-high 19 points included three three-pointers and a 6-for-6 showing at the foul line. Fellow senior Jalen Axibal added 16 points for Loyola.
Thirteen of Tyler Smith’s team-high 15 points came in the fourth quarter for Leo. Fellow sophomore Ja’keem Cole, Leo’s No. 2 scorer, managed eight points before limping off on a twisted ankle midway through the final period. He’ll have until Wednesday, March 3 to recover; Leo’s Monday, March 1 game at Mt. Carmel has been postponed because of COVID issues involving the Caravan.
Leo’s sophomore team saw its four-game winning streak halted as Loyola registered a 39-31 victory in the preliminary game.