In a few years, when Bryce Hopkins is likely to be drawing a seven-figures NBA salary, the Leo Lions will be able to say, “I played against him.”

And, were it not for a few untimely missteps, the Lions might have been able to say they beat Hopkins, a Fenwick High School phenom who has signed to play college ball at Kentucky. 

If only.

Hopkins’ free throw with no time remaining in overtime lifted Fenwick to a 65-64 victory over Leo at Fenwick on Wednesday, March 3. The foul shot capped a 33-point, 13-rebound, five-block performance by Hopkins, who is long, strong and fluid at 6-foot-7 … and who was 0-for-3 against Leo in the teams’ previous three meetings.

He’s probably the best player to emerge from the Catholic League  since Corey Maggette graduated from Fenwick in 1998. After a one-year stopover at Duke, Maggette was a first-round NBA draft pick who went on to play 14 professional seasons. Hopkins, who switched his allegiance to Kentucky after originally committing to Louisville,  seems headed down a similar career path. But Leo made him earn everything he got on Senior Night at Fenwick.

“Nobody gave us a chance coming in here on Senior Night,” Leo Coach Jamal Thompson said.

The first quarter was probably the Lions’ best of the season—they spread the floor, they moved the ball and they created shots they could make in grabbing a 16-9 lead.

As impressive as the first quarter had been, the second was hideous. Slippery-fingered Leo was guilty of eight turnovers in nine possessions at one stretch, enabling a 20-2 Fenwick run that gave the Friars a 29-18 lead three minutes before halftime.

The Lions might easily have packed it in at that point, but at Thompson’s urging, they chose to fight instead. Sophomore guards Ja’keem Cole and Tyler Smith brought them within 44-43 as the third quarter wound down, but a costly defensive lapse allowed Fenwick to close the period with a 6-0 spurt, good for a 50-43 lead after three. 

Back came Leo again. With Junior Cameron Cleveland scoring nine of his team-high 19 points, the Lions took advantage of Hopkins’ only cold spell of the night and sneaked into a 61-58 lead with 1:33 left in regulation. But, as is often the case with a young team, they failed to capitalize each time they had an opportunity to close it out, missing two free throws and turning it over twice. Fenwick tied it (62-all) and forced overtime on Hopkins’ bucket with 17 seconds remaining.  

OT was more of the same. Cleveland’s nifty layup put the Lions ahead 64-62 in the first minute, but they wouldn’t score again. Fenwick’s efforts were similarly futile until a Gabe Madej layup tied the game with just under a minute left. 

After an exchange of misfires, Fenwick called time with nine seconds remaining and set up a clear-out for Hopkins. He was bumped on his way to the basket and made the only free throw Fenwick needed for the 65-64 final. It was his 17th foul shot of the evening; Leo shot 14 free throws as a team. Just sayin’. 

The Leo locker room was downcast and disappointed, but Thompson had nothing but praise for his team’s effort and grit.

“We could have easily packed it in after that second quarter, but we came back and fought hard and played better,” he said.

Cleveland and Tyler Smith led the Lions with 19 points apiece. Cole scored 10, and junior Austin Ford had 10 with six hard-earned rebounds. But those lapses … 

Leo hit 11 of its 14 free throws, but two of the misses came in the final minute of regulation, when the game was there for the taking. Similarly, six turnovers in the fourth quarter or in overtime gave the Friars (9-2, 5-1) more chances than a good team needs.

“A free throw here or there, we take better care of the ball and it’s a different ballgame,” Thompson said. “That being said, I’m proud of our guys. We fought all night. We can build off this. We’re getting better. If we play this hard every night we’re going to win some ballgames.”

The Lions face another daunting task on Friday, March 5, traveling to Brother Rice, whose 9-0 record includes victories over Fenwick and Loyola Academy. Leo’s postponed game against St. Joe’s will be made up at Leo on Saturday, March 6, with the sophomores tipping off at 1 p.m. and the varsity at 3.

Leo’s sophs slipped to 4-3 for the season after a 57-44 loss to the Fenwick sophs in Wednesday’s preliminary game.