Jamal Thompson’s coaching mantra is succinct, forceful and time-tested: If we run our offense, we’ll get good shots. 

He knows that, without the inside muscle of the Anderson brothers and the outside firepower Fred Cleveland, Malcolm Bell and Terrance Ford gave Leo over the last four years, his smallish young Lions lack a dominant player and are dependent on constant movement—of the ball and of themselves—to create offensive opportunities.

Just 1:37 into a Catholic League matchup at Providence Catholic on Friday, Feb. 12, Thompson saw the same type of standing-around listlessness that had undone the Lions in a 24-point pasting by St. Ignatius in Monday’s season opener. So he called timeout and reminded them—loudly—that their effort was unsatisfactory.

Message delivered. What followed was 30 minutes of back-and-forth, highly entertaining basketball, played with an earnestness that more than made up for what it lacked in artistry. In the end, a familiar-looking combination of inside muscle (Hampton Dauparas) and outside firepower (Jack Wajda, Jimmy Arentz) was the difference.

Three-point shooting brought Providence back each time Leo threatened to pull away, and the Celtics won 52-50 when Arentz knocked down a three-ball from the deep corner with 17 seconds remaining. The Lions’ final possession was futile. Providence had two fouls to give before putting Leo in the one-and-one bonus and used them, leaving the Lions just seven seconds to make their last move. Ja’keem Cole, whose runner in the lane had put Leo up 50-49 a bit earlier, was swarmed when he drove the lane this time. Jamari Allen could do nothing with his desperation pass as the hulking Dauparas loomed over him, so the Lions didn’t get off a shot.

An unsatisfying end to an exemplary effort. Thompson could take heart from the fact that three juniors and two sophomores were on the floor at the end of the game, and a freshman gave him some meaningful minutes as well. So it’s likely there are better days ahead for the Lions (0-2), but there will be some bumps in the road to getting there. 

Sophomore Tyler Smith scored 12 points for the Lions. Junior Cameron Cleveland had 11. Allen, a 5-foot-11 junior with a linebacker’s body and a Lion’s heart, scored only three points but took down eight rebounds and made the 6-5 sophomore Dauparas work for the seven points he earned after blitzing the Lions with seven in the opening five minutes.

Junior Jack Wajda hit four of the Celtics’ eight three-pointers and finished with a game-high 17 points. Arentz made two three-pointers and scored 10.

The night was not a total loss for Leo; the sophomore team (1-1) used a 14-1 run in the third quarter to beat the Providence sophs 44-35 in the preliminary game. And the Lions have no time to feel sorry for themselves; they’re back at it on Monday, Feb. 15, facing De La Salle in their home opener. The sophomores tip off at 5, followed by the varsity game at 7.