Leo’s 3-1 showing at the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic in late December attracted some notice in high school basketball circles. All four of the Lions’ opponents were Class 4-A schools, and only unbeaten and top-ranked Glenbard West proved superior to 2-A campaigner Leo.

After a New Year’s weekend break, the Lions were back at it on Tuesday, Jan. 4. And they registered another eye-opening win, grinding down Thornwood 56-46 in a nonconference game at South Holland to improve to 8-2 in what has begun to look like an intriguing season …

… unless COVID interferes. Leo’s Friday game against Providence-St. Mel at Leo has been postponed because of COVID issues within the Knights’ program.

Thornwood’s Thunderbirds brought a 9-4 record into Tuesday’s game and compete in the Southland Conference, one of the area’s strongest. But they had no answer for the suffocating defensive pressure Leo’s guards applied in forcing 26 turnovers, three of them on 10-second violations.

As Thornwood’s guards struggled, its long, athletic forwards rarely saw the ball and turned into spectators, unable to take advantage of superior size all over the floor.

“We really got after it on defense and gave a good effort,” Lions Coach Jamal Thompson said. “If we’d made our layups we might have won by 20.”

Leo’s so-so shooting and some carelessness with the ball enabled Thornwood to cut a 16-point deficit in half early in the final period, but the Lions regrouped and began finding Austin Ford behind the Thunderbirds’ press—the senior swingman scored eight of his game-high 17 points in the final period. Ford also took down 12 rebounds and Cam Cleveland had eight to go with his 11 points as Leo held its own with the taller T-birds on the boards.

Jakeem Cole had 12 points with four steals and Tyler Smith contributed 10 points, four assists and four steals as the Lions achieved admirable balance. Sophomore Christian Brockett took one shot and scored one point, but was in the middle of everything nonetheless with six steals and seven assists.

Leo is 3-0 in the Catholic League. With the Providence-St. Mel game on hold, the  Lions will next face De La Salle (0-3, 4-13) at De La Salle on Saturday, Jan. 8. Tipoff is at 5 p.m.