By Dan McGrath

What the Leo Lions wouldn’t give for, say, a seven-minute do-over of Thursday night’s 56-53 Catholic League crossover loss to the Cadets of Marmion Academy in Aurora. 

Leo (6-10, 1-4) played well, save for puzzling, three-minute stretches of the second and third quarters, when a series of empty possessions—turnovers, missed shots, poor decisions—enabled Marmion to erase eight- and six-point deficits.

And then, in the final minute, after Emmanuel Walker’s three-point play brought the Lions within 52-51, they missed a layup and turned the ball over by stepping over the line on an inbounds play when a lead was there for the taking.

The Cadets promptly marched to the free throw line, where they had spent most of the second half, closing it out with four straight free throws and negating an uncontested bucket Leo scored at the buzzer. 

It’s worth noting that 17 of Marmion’s 23 second-half points came from the foul line. They shot 23 second-half free throws to Leo’s six. The Lions shot 14 free throws in the game and were not in the bonus all evening.

Coach Jamille Ridley, though, was more inclined to blame clutch-and-grab defensive tactics than one-sided officiating.

“We’ve got to be more disciplined on defense,” he said. “Marmion won the game at the foul line because we were playing defense with our hands too often, and we got called for it.” 

Marmion is tough to play against. There’s not much in the way of size, length or athleticism within their interchangeable nine-man rotation, but the Cadets are cohesively perpetual motion at both ends of the floor—turn your head for a second and your man is flashing to the basket for a layup or two free throws as you grab him on his way past.

Indeed, three Lions fouled out and two others had four fouls at the final horn.

Ridley used 11 players and nine of them scored, Walker the leader with 13 points, followed by Marlo Moore with 12. Sophomore Raymone Little had just two points, but he got his hands on four rebounds and was helpful on defense in his varsity debut.

Marmion (8-10), 3-3) got 14 points from junior Caden Anderson and 12 each from Braden Harms and Evan Stumm.

“I told the guys, ‘Don’t hang your heads,’ “ Ridley said. “It’s tough to win on the road, especially when the other team shoots 23 free throws in a half. But we played hard, we competed, we played to win. Nothing to be ashamed of.”

The Lions were scheduled to hit the road and face Rockridge (11-3) Saturday and Sherrard (13-2) Monday in the MLK Shootout in Moline, but those games were cancelled because of the weather. The next game is at Leo against Aurora Christian on Tuesday, January 16. Tip off 7 p.m.