By Dan McGrath
To beat Loyola Academy in basketball, a team must be capable of escaping death by a thousand cuts.
It might seem outdated, but the Ramblers are relentless (and effective) in their give-and-go, pass-and-cut approach to offense, which taxes an opponent’s patience. Lose concentration or turn your head for a second and you’ll be watching a Loyola player roll in for a layup. The Ramblers had converted often enough to bring a 16-6 overall record and a 6-1 Catholic League mark into their game with Leo in Wilmette on Tuesday, Jan. 25.
The Lions were unfazed. Their commitment and sense of purpose on defense offset Loyola’s constant motion, forcing the Ramblers to jack up three-pointers. They made seven, four by sophomore Miles Boland, but Leo matched that total while riding junior guard Tyler Smith’s 18-point second half to a 51-43 victory.
The performance was one of Leo’s best in a 13-3 season that features an 8-0 Catholic League mark, with ancient rival Mount Carmel (18-2, 6-2) set to visit Leo on Friday, Jan. 28, fresh off a 19-point spanking by St. Rita.
“We can be proud of ourselves for this win,” Coach Jamal Thompson said. “We really played tough, smart defense, and Tyler … I got on him a little bit at halftime, but did he ever step up.”
Smith was scoreless and took at least one ill-advised shot during a first half that ended with Leo clinging to a 22-20 lead on the strength of Cameron Cleveland’s 10 second-quarter points. Smith’s second-half outburst included three three-pointers and an array of impressive shots, but his most meaningful play of the night may well have been a pass.
Back-to-back three-pointers had brought Loyola within four points midway through the final period and the home crowd had begun to stir when Smith thwarted the Ramblers’ press by whipping a cross-court pass to Jarrod Gee for a layup and a three-point play that made it a seven-point game. Loyola would get no closer.
“We kept our poise every time they made a run,” Thompson said.
The Lions also outdid the Ramblers at their own careful, patient game, committing just five turnovers as opposed to 18 assists, nine by sophomore Christian Brockett, who also scored nine points. Gee’s nine came on 4-for-6 shooting.
Boland’s 14 points led Loyola, and Shane Tarjan scored 11.
Thompson had a final word for his victorious troops as they left the locker room: “Let’s go get Mount Carmel. I want this one.”