This was probably inevitable … but at least it took only 32 minutes. 

After excruciating, spirit-sapping overtime losses to Catholic League kingpins Fenwick and Brother Rice in their two previous games, the Leo Lions didn’t have much in the tank for their makeup meeting with cellar-dwelling St. Joe’s on Saturday, March 6 at Leo. (The game had been scheduled for Feb. 19 but had to be postponed because of COVID concerns on the St. Joe’s campus.)

“Cellar-dwelling St Joe’s”—is that a misprint? The school that Isiah Thomas, Evan Turner and 1,000-win coaching legend Gene Pingatore made synonymous with basketball is struggling?

Mightily. The Chargers were without a conference win and dragged a 1-9 overall record onto the floor with them. They might lack their customary blue-chip talent, but they’re still long, quick and aggressive, and those traits carried them to a 53-50 win over a spent Leo squad.

Typically, the Lions (3-7) didn’t go quietly in a fourth straight loss, whittling a 13-point deficit down to three points while holding St Joe’s to six points total in the fourth quarter. But they couldn’t find the juice for a final push, and the three-point spread at the end was as close as they would get in the second half.

Leo’s fatigue was evident in many ways. The Lions were a step (or more) slow on defense, allowing the visitors too-easy access to driving lanes and close-in shots. They had a hard time getting off the floor to rebound, and each time the Chargers pulled the ball off the board they took off with it, creating a succession of fast-break opportunities that Leo seemed too pooped to stop.

Most tellingly, the Lions connected on just 32 percent of their floor shots. A dozen or more misses landed on the front of the rim and fell off, a sure sign of tired legs among the shooters.

Cameron Cleveland scored 11 of his 15 points in the first half and Austin Ford had 10 of his 13 in the second, but the starting guard line of Ja’keem Cole, Tyler Smith and Christian Brockett struggled to find good looks against St. Joe’s long, rangy defenders and combined for just 10 points after hitting Brother Rice with 43 one night earlier.

Tired, tired, tired. And so were the sophomores, falling to St. Joe’s sophomores 56-44 in the preliminary game to stand at 4-5 for the season. 

A once-postponed game at Mt. Carmel has been canceled because of COVID issues at Mt. Carmel, but there are still four games to play in the final week of this tightly packed season, all of them at home: St. Rita on Monday, March 8; DePaul Prep on Tuesday, March 9; St. Laurence on Wednesday, March 10. A Senior Night nonconference meeting with Christ the King at Leo on Saturday, March 13 concludes the season.

“We’re going tø keep pushing and building,” Leo Coach Jamal Thompson said. “We’ll get better.”