By Dan McGrath

If Leo thought its five-point third quarter against Curie in the Team Rose Classic two days earlier was abysmal, Tuesday night’s second period against the University of Chicago Lab School was … abysmaller? 

How bad was it? One-for-12 shooting, six turnovers, two total points bad. The Lions were lucky to be within six (23-17) at halftime … on their home floor, against a team from the Independent Schools league.

But in the third period, the defensive pressure that has to be Leo’s go-to move asserted itself, and junior Tyler Smith provided the spark that had been missing with 10 points. The Lions ran off 27 points to seize control, but very nearly relinquished it before holding on for a 61-59 victory.

The Maroons trailed by seven (56-49) with 2:26 left, but Xavier Nesbitt brought them back, scoring 12 of his game-high 27 points in the final period, aided and abetted by Leo’s careless passes, ill-advised shots and two missed free throws in three tries.

Leo led 61-59 when U-High rebounded a missed free throw and called timeout with 14.2 seconds left and a chance to win or tie. But the Lions kept the ball out of Nesbitt’s hands, and when Ryan Duncan’s forced 12-footer bounced off the back iron, Leo rebounded as time expired.

The operative word: Whew! 

“We were ranked (#21) in the Sun-Times this week, and I told the guys that means we’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” Coach Jamal Thompson said. “But I could tell warming up that we were playing it cool, like we’re ranked and they’re U-High.”

Dismiss the Maroons at your peril—they were confident, cohesive and tough, knocking down nine three-pointers and getting 15 points from Zach Smith and 10 from Duncan in addition to Nesbitt’s well-earned 27. Their only flaw: 20 turnovers, which gave Leo enough offense-from-defense points to turn the game in its favor.

Austin Ford matched Smith’s season-high 16 points and took down six rebounds. Eight Lions scored, with bench players Jarrod Gee, Keeland Jordan and Cyree Johnson contributing 11 points and nine rebounds. 

Nonconference games at Bremen (6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 20) and Fenger (7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 22 at Leo) are next for Leo (4-1). 

“We’re going to spend a lot of time in the gym over Christmas break, I promise you that,” Thompson said. “We have to get better.”