Regardless of where this challenging basketball season ultimately takes the Leo Lions, they will have at least one memory to savor.
It came on Thursday, Jan. 5. After spotting the Maroons from the University of Chicago Lab School a 21-point halftime lead, the Lions stormed back and sneaked out of Hyde Park with a 64-62 nonconference victory.
Keeland Jordan was his typically reliable self with 26 points, seven rebounds and three blocks and fellow senior Jachi Lewis scored 16 of his career-high 20 in the second half as Leo (5-9) halted a four-game losing streak. But it was little-used junior Isaiah Gibson who turned in the play of the night when he waited for traffic to clear, then flipped in a short shot from a tough angle just left of the bucket to break a 62-all tie as time expired.
“A character-builder, that’s for sure,” Coach Jamille Ridley said in a refreshingly upbeat locker room. “A lot of contributions from a lot of people. Very satisfying.”
The unthinkable prospect of a Chicago Catholic League team suffering a running-clock beatdown at the hands of an Independent Schools League campaigner seemed possible as the Maroons powered their way to a 40-19 halftime lead. The Lions were guilty of 17 turnovers, and they had no answer for guards Benjamin King and Xavier Nesbitt, who had a combined 37 first-half points after Nesbitt drilled a three-pointer from just inside the halfcourt stripe as the buzzer sounded.
But King went to the bench with four fouls after an 11-0 third-quarter run brought Leo back into the game. He drew his fifth early in the final period, and for the rest of the night the Maroons resembled Nesbitt and four guys from sixth-period gym class.
Though Nesbitt finished with a game-high 33 points, a box-and-one defense effectively controlled him, with senior Kevin Jackson doing the heavy lifting. Nesbitt’s teammates didn’t exactly pick up the slack, managing three points total as Leo outscored U-High 24-11 in the final period to steal it.
“They stayed with it and never quit,” Ridley said. “I’m proud of the guys.”
The Lions had little time to savor their most satisfying win of the season. They were right back at it on Friday, Jan. 6 for the resumption of Catholic League play at Loyola Academy.