By Dan McGrath
The Leo Lions had a mere 14 hours to recover from perhaps their most punishing beatdown of the season.
After getting clobbered 62-23 at Catholic League powerhouse DePaul Prep Friday night, the Lions traveled to Richton Park for an 11 a.m. tipoff against Michele Clark on Saturday in the Breast Cancer Awareness Shootout at Rich Township High School.
A thing of beauty it was not—playing on understandably heavy legs, Leo shot 22 percent through three quarters, missed 15 of 18 free throws and resisted rebounding as if it were a communicable disease.
And yet a 34-26 victory goes into the books, in part because Clark (11-11), which also played on Friday and had transportation issues getting to the game, endured its own struggles—seven of 28 free-throw shooting, for starters.
“I know it wasn’t pretty or artistic, but to bounce back and win after getting punched in the mouth the way we did—that’s character,” Coach Jamille Ridley said. “I’m proud of our guys. They showed me something.”
Emanuel Walker flipped in three three-pointers for a team-high nine points, and freshman Karon Shavers matched him despite going 0-for-6 at the foul line. Marlo Moore’s six points were especially meaningful—they featured a buzzer-beating bucket after the Lions held the ball for the final shot of the third quarter, followed by a three-point play that gave Leo an insurmountable nine-point lead early in the fourth.
After opening the season 3-10, the Lions (11-12) have a chance to reach the .500 mark when they host St. Francis de Sales (5-15, 1-7) on Tuesday.
“Sunday,” Ridley said, “is a day off. We need rest.”
And more time to heal from the beating they took at DePaul Prep, the defending Class 2-A state champions who improved to 20-2 overall and remained unbeaten in Catholic League play.
“That is a good basketball team, a serious basketball team,” Ridley said. “They play hard, they play together and they execute. We can all learn from how well they execute, including me.”
It was Senior Night for the Rams, and Jaylan McElroy, a lithe 6-foot-6 senior who has been bedeviling the Lions since DePaul Prep was Gordon Tech, might have been expected to go out and score 30.
Nope. He settled for six points, but he rebounded and defended like a demon and was easily one of the most impactful players on the floor without scoring a bunch.
He had help from Rashaun Porter, an intimidating 6-6 sophomore who will be a handful for Catholic League opponents over the next two years. Porter muscled his way to 11 points, all in the first half, but his greatest contribution was teaming with McElroy to deny the Lions any semblance of an inside game.
Thus they were forced to fire away from distance all evening. Walker hit two three-pointers among the 10 or so he launched and was Leo’s leading scorer with six points. None of the other Lions managed more than four points.
De Sales comes in with a 5-15 record, but there’s an emotional overtone to the game. Two years ago, on its way to Catholic League, regional and sectional titles, Leo ran up the score on the outnammed Pioneers in rather inhumane fashion. DeSales refashioned its roster with transfers and reciprocated with a satisfying 67-55 win at Leo last season, so Tuesday’s game is something of a rubber match.
“We’ll be ready,” Ridley said. “We’ll only have one day of practice, but we’ll be ready.”