By Dan McGrath
Perhaps the Leo Lions should offer Cardinal Blase Cupich season tickets.
The spiritual leader of the Archdiocese of Chicago was in the house for Leo’s Catholic League White set-to with Mt. Carmel in the Lions Den on Friday, Feb. 7. The Lions were looking for a pick-me-up after dropping two straight games in dissimilar and discouraging fashion, and after watching their sophomores lose a 52-51 heartbreaker to the Caravan sophs on Shane Curtin’s buzzer-beating three-pointer as time expired.
The Cardinal seemed to enjoy himself in the raucous atmosphere the near-capacity crowd created. His presence may have given the Lions the lift they needed, but their own solid, spirited play at both ends of the floor was the real catalyst in a 74-59 victory that snapped Mt. Carmel’s seven-game win streak.
“Good effort,” Coach Jamal Thompson said. “We earned that win.”
Leo is 14-12 overall and 7-4 in Catholic League play, while Carmel fell to 10-13, 4-7.
The 15-point final margin is deceiving. The Caravan hung with Leo for the better part of three quarters, trailing 48-42 after three. Carmel then tried to press Leo out of the delay game it went to to protect the lead, and the Lions exploited soft spots in the middle and along the baseline. Tim Howard scored six of his team-high 16 points in the final period and Kendale Anderson collected six of his 15. Meanwhile, sophomore Cameron Cleveland came off the bench to hit all four of his fourth-quarter shots, his eight points fueling a 26-point final period that broke open a tight game.
“Tim was big all night, and Cam gave us a nice lift off the bench,” Thompson said.
Anderson had nine rebounds and Howard six for the Lions, while Terrance Ford added eight assists to his 15 points while running the team with poise and efficiency.
Andre Bennett had a game-high 23 points for Carmel and Jadyn Benson scored 14. Caravan freshman Deandre Craig had eight off off the bench and looks like a player to watch … much like Leo freshman Ja’Keem Cole, who made a surprise start and got the Lions going with five first-quarter points.
But the most telling number of the game was six, as in six Leo turnovers. That’s a season-low for the Lions, who had averaged 20 in their previous four games.
“Good things happen when you take care of the basketball,” Thompson said.
Cardinal Cupich would bless that notion.