St. Ignatius has experience to augment its formidable size, length and quickness, which made the Wolfpack a tough opening-night matchup for a small, youngish team with five new starters and exactly one week of practice.

That would be the Leo Lions, and the 63-39 spanking they took from the Wolfpack at the eerily quiet St. Ignatius gym on Monday, Feb. 8 was indeed painful.

COVID restrictions delayed the start of the Catholic League basketball season by more than two months, and the restrictions remaining in place limited the “crowd” to a handful of school officials. If the atmosphere was reminiscent of a Saturday morning freshman game, the caliber of play went along with it, at least on the visitors’ side. 

Leo went with a five-guard alignment for much of the evening as Coach Jamal Thompson juggled bodies in search of a lineup that might mesh. Guards are not inclined to rebound, so the Lions took a pounding on the backboards, and it’s on them to prevent that from becoming a regular occurrence now that they’re playing without a voraciously rebounding Anderson brother for the first time in five years.

Worse, Leo exacerbated its rebounding indifference by failing to hustle back on defense, so A.J. Redd (16 points), Richard Barron (12) and Koby Gilles (12) frequently shot nothing more challenging than a layup in outscoring the Lions 40-39. 

Mix in 0-for-7 free-throw shooting, 2-for-15 three-point shooting and 17 turnovers and you have the recipe for a blowout. It was 20-8 after the first quarter, and it never got much closer. Sophomore Ja’keem Cole led the Lions with 10 points. 

Season opener or no, Thompson was unsparing in his criticism of his team’s shot selection and indifference to rebounding and defense. St. Francis de Sales’ decision not to play this season took Wednesday’s game off the schedule and left the Lions with three days to practice before their next outing, at Providence in New Lenox on Friday, Feb. 12.

The St. Ignatius sophomores set the tone for the evening with an oddly similar 65-37 victory in the preliminary game.