By Dan McGrath

OK, basketball is a game in which size matters—we hear it so often that we get it.

Occasionally, though …

Saturday, Jan. 8 was one of those occasions. 

Jakeem Cole, generously listed at 6 feet and a slightly built 150 pounds, was the smallest player on the floor, but also the most dominant as the Leo Lions pummeled De La Salle and its college-sized front line, 71-55 at De La Salle.

The Meteors were fresh off an eye-opening road win over a 10-1 DePaul Prep squad, but they simply couldn’t deal with Cole, who hit five three-pointers and scored a career-high 29 points. Nineteen of those points came in the first half as Leo built a lead that reached 24 points and never got below 10 no matter how desperately De La Salle rallied.

The Lions ran their offense, took care of the ball (just eight turnovers), held their own on the boards with the taller Meteors, made 16 of 21 free throws and knocked down a season-high eight three-pointers in improving to 9-2 overall and 4-0 in the Catholic League. Their best performance of the season?

“We played well,” Coach Jamal Thompson conceded. “We worked on shooting in practice Friday—pretty much all we did was shoot the ball. I think it paid off.”

Tyler Smith scored 13 points for the Lions, Cameron Cleveland had 12 points (and seven rebounds) and Austin Ford contributed nine points and nine rebounds as Leo took charge early and maintained control.

“I think we showed what we can do when we run our offense, share the ball and take good shots,” Thompson said.  

DaJuan Bates scored 16 for De La Salle, but he’d gone for 40 when the teams met at Leo in the pandemic-influenced spring season back in March. The Meteors won that game by 14, 65-51. A lot sure can happen in 10 months.

By mutual agreement, Leo’s Tuesday game at Yorkville Christian has been canceled. “That’s a long way ro go on a school night, in the middle of a pandemic,” Thompson said. 

So the Lions are off until Friday, Jan. 14, when they’ll face Marmion (6-6, 2-3) at Leo.

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but I like where we are,” Thompson said. “We’re playing well.”