By Dan McGrath
The Leo Lions aren’t likely to get much taller over the course of a six-week season, and the best they can do in terms of acquiring experience is 15 games.
Thus size and youth loom as season-long challenges.
But the guard-heavy roster is quick enough and deep enough to press like swarming, irritated hornets, which the Lions did in Wednesday night’s Catholic League exercise with Providence-St. Mel on the West Side.
The Knights never knew what hit them. It was 23-7 after a quarter, 52-20 at the half and 88-45 at the finish as Leo (1-2) rolled to its first victory of this truncated season.
Now the Knights (0-4) are not to be confused with Fenwick, DePaul Prep and the other aspirants to Catholic League royalty. But for one night at least, it was nice to see the Lions display the take-no-prisoners swagger that helped carry them to an average of 22 wins over the previous five seasons.
And, for one night at least, Leo’s basketball future seemed as intriguing as its storied past. Underclassmen accounted for 87 of the Lions’ 88 points, with junior Cam Cleveland putting up an effortless 20 and the sophomore backcourt duo of Tyler Smith (18) and Ja’Keem Cole (17) combining for 35.
But most of the good stuff came off the Leo press, which had the hosts talking to themselves and committing 15 turnovers before halftime.
“Something to build on,” Coach Jamal Thompson said. “Easily our best game. We really got after it defensively.”
Leo shot 14 free throws total in its first two games, hitting just three. The Lions shot 19 in Wednesday’s first half and 27 for the game, making 16 and remaining on the attack on offense throughout the evening.
Leo’s sophomore team (2-1) made it a sweep for the evening, riding a 24-8 third-quarter burst to a 75-44 victory in the preliminary game.
The Lions will have an extra day to savor their first win and make preparations for the next one. Friday’s home game with St. Joe’s has been postponed and will have to be rescheduled because the Chargers are In COVID quarantine.
So Leo is back in action Saturday (Feb. 20), hosting De La Salle in a makeup for Monday’s snowed-out game. Tip-off is at 2 pm.