By Dan McGrath

“Leo,” DePaul Prep Coach Tom Kleinschmidt was saying, “is my favorite team to watch in the entire Catholic League. They just keep coming.”

The Lions came at Kleinschmidt’s Rams for about 12 minutes at Leo on Tuesday, March 9, but the differences between a 10-2 team and a 3-9 team became apparent after the mandatory second-quarter timeout. DePaul closed the period on a 14-0 run, stretched it to 18 with the first two buckets of the third quarter, seized a 17-point lead and sped off to a 65-40 victory.

There was no quit in the Lions, but no comeback, either—not with the way the Rams play defense. They challenge every shot and every pass and trap all over the floor. Their help-and-recover tactics forced 17 Leo turnovers. They limited the Lions to 24 percent shooting, including 3-for-14 on three-pointers. 

Junior Austin Ford never worked harder for 12 points and seven rebounds. Fellow junior Cameron Cleveland scored 10 but didn’t have an open look with hands, arms and various other Ram body parts in his face all night. 

Forty points was actually an achievement of sorts for the hosts. DePaul held Brother Rice to 38 in handing the Crusaders their first loss of the season one night earlier, and Mount Carmel to 22 not long after this COVID-influenced season got started last month.

Leo had no answers for DePaul big man Ryan Matthews, who was almost unencumbered while going 20 points with nine rebounds and five blocks. The 6-foot-8, 240-pound Matthews gets so much done inside that the Rams can afford to play four guards, all of whom are demonically quick. The best of them is Loyola recruit TY Johnson, who barely broke a sweat while scoring 11 points with five assists.

The Rams, in a way, are an object lesson for the young Lions. Johnson, Matthews and point guard Rasheed Bello learned the Catholic League game at the varsity level and struggled some as freshmen and sophomores. Now they’re among the best players on one of the best teams in the Catholic League … but it’s obvious how hard they have worked, in the gym and in the weightroom, to achieve that stature. 

If the Lions are willing to pay a similar price … 

There’s more to come in the talent pipeline at DePaul, judging by the Ram sophomores’ 52-45 victory in the preliminary game. Leo cut a 14-point deficit to five points with a strong fourth quarter, but could get no closer.

Finally, a break for Leo after six draining games in 11 nights. Six losses, too, including four to the four best teams in the Catholic League. But the Wednesday, March 10 game against St. Laurence has been canceled because of recurring COVID issues at St. Laurence.

So Saturday’s nonconference skirmish with Christ the King—sophomores at 1 p.m., varsity at 3—is the season finale. The Lions will recognize their only senior, Ri’chard Coleman, on Senior Day.