By Dan McGrath

Short-handed, in foul trouble, Senior Night-hostile environment … it wasn’t the ideal setting for the Leo basketball team to close out the regular season at Providence Catholic in New Lenox on Friday, Feb. 21.

And while not much from their 56-43 victory will make its way onto the season’s highlight reel, the Lions did display commendable resolve in finishing the regular season with a 17-14 overall record and a 10-5 Catholic League mark.

“Seventeen wins is pretty good, considering the schedule we played,” Coach Jamal Thompson said. ”It could and probably should have been 20—there were at least three games that we let get away from us. But we played a tough schedule to get us ready for what we face now.”

That would be the IHSA Class 1-A state tournament. Leo earned a first-round bye as the top seed in the St. Francis de Sales Regional and will make its tournament debut on Wednesday, Feb. 26, against the winner of Monday’s first-round game between Morgan Park Academy and Illinois Lutheran.

The Providence game was a good tune-up, as Adarius West’s sore knee and persistent foul trouble forced Leo to play short-handed much of the evening. Only the first quarter, which ended with the Lions up 20-11, was played at a pace to their liking, but the lead never got smaller than five points thereafter as Leo’s defense kept the patient Celtics (12-17, 4-11) from converting the shots they created with their movement and well-run sets.

Sophomore Cameron Cleveland started in West’s spot and led the Lions with a career-best 20 points, 11 in a blazing-hot first quarter. Terrance Ford limped off with a twisted knee after a scary-looking second-quarter collision, but returned to score 10 points in the second half and finished with 16 and seven assists. Kendale Anderson had 14 points (on 6-for-8 shooting) and eight rebounds, while sophomore Jamari Allen provided an energetic lift off the bench with six rebounds and four assists.

Senior Joe Alfirevich was scoreless and missed the only shot he took in the first half, but came to life with 16 second-half points for Providence.

“Now is when the real fun starts—this is what you play for,” Thompson said. “Our goal is to win seven in a row. No reason why we can’t.”

Leo’s sophomores sustained a 45-42 loss to Providence in their season finale but finished 20-7 overall and 13-2 in Catholic League play.