It had been 10 games and 28 days since Leo’s name appeared on the ‘L’ side of a basketball score, so spotting it there was not a familiar sight.
Neither was it welcome, as it cost the Lions their hopes of an undefeated Catholic League season—on Senior Night, no less.
But hit just 22 percent of your shots and take a 33-21 whipping on the backboards against a team the caliber of DePaul Prep and a 48-38 outcome is almost predictable.
“I’m certainly not disappointed in the season we’ve had so far, but I’m disappointed in the way we played tonight,” Coach Jamal Thompson said after his team’s regular-season finale at Leo. “We weren’t aggressive. We didn’t attack.”
For one of the few times this season the Lions ran into a team with the same relentless commitment to defense that distinguishes them. Whether it was a 1-2-2 zone or a help-heavy man-to-man, the aggressive Rams simply denied the Lions the shots they normally take and make with aplomb, blocking six and discouraging at least a dozen others, including layup after layup.
“They blocked a few and we started looking for a defender instead of shooting our normal shot,” Thompson said.
It might be basketball as mud wrestling, but DePaul excels at it. Especially when Jaylan McElroy, a 6-foot-6 sophomore with the wingspan of a much taller man, sets up shop inside and scores 17 points with nine rebounds and four blocks. Fellow sophomore Payton Kamin scored 11 for the Rams, including four straight free throws and a bucket to help them pull away after Leo had trimmed an 11-point deficit to four at the fourth-quarter mask timeout.
But, playing their fifth game in eight days, the Lions’ legs just weren’t there. They didn’t have a double-figures scorer, Austin Ford and Tyler Smith finishing with nine points apiece.
Cam Cleveland missed his third straight game, resting the knee he injured at St. Rita last week. He made a token appearance per an agreement between the coaches and scored on an uncontested layup in his final appearance at Leo’s gym. Fellow seniors Ford, Jamari Allen, Cy’Ree Johnson and Rob Smith also were honored in a pregame ceremony.
DePaul Prep is 21-4 overall and closes out an 11-3 Catholic League campaign with three straight victories over Brother Rice, St. Rita and Leo. The Rams will be a handful in the Class 2-A state tournament, which is the next order of business for the Lions ((21-3, 13-1) as well.
“We’re going to break down this film and go over every play,” Thompson promised. “It’s a new season, but we’re only guaranteed one more game. It can’t be a game like this one.“