St. Francis senior guard Andrew Harvey came out on fire Friday against area-rated Leo.
The 6-foot-4 Harvey scored the Spartans' first nine points behind two 3-pointers, including a four-point play with a free throw after a pass from sophomore Danny Blank.
Then Harvey sat the rest of the half after receiving his second foul toward the end of the first quarter.
"I got some early fouls. It was tough," Harvey said. "I could have made every shot, but 9 points is fine. It wasn't enough."
The Spartans paid for every missed shot and every mistake as Leo pulled away for a 74-51 victory in Wheaton with first place on the line in the Chicago Catholic League White Division.
Harvey finished with 12 points for the Spartans (6-13, 2-2), adding a third 3 in the fourth quarter before fouling out. Seniors Alex Rueth and Matt Cooney each had 8 points and junior Mike Cascella and Blank 7 each.
The Lions (10-5, 3-0) have won seven of their last eight with the only loss 82-71 to powerful Morgan Park in the Rich South Big Dipper Tournament final Dec. 29.
"They play fast, but we've played a lot of fast teams. They're bigger than a lot of teams that we've played," Rueth said. "We had a hard time boxing out. They crashed the boards hard. We just didn't react well to a lot of their athleticism."
How rough were things inside? The Spartans had no offensive rebounds in the first half and only four for the game -- three in the fourth quarter after Leo led as much as 53-30.
"That's two things. That's us needing to get to the glass and they're big," said St. Francis coach Erin Dwyer, whose team was outrebounded St. Francis 35-20.
"I thought we got off to a decent start and then it just kind of fell apart. Losing Harvey hurt us. And then you've got to convert. They trap you with a style of defense where you just have to make plays."
St. Francis made just 5 of 19 first-half shots with 9 turnovers to exacerbate the rebounding disadvantage. Only behind 13-11 after one quarter, the Spartans trailed 30-17 by halftime.
"I had to sit the second quarter. You kind of lose your momentum," Harvey said. "You've just got to come out better in the second half."
Junior point guard Fred Cleveland led Leo's inside-outside attack with 27 points and 3 of their eight 3s and 6 assists. Junior Malcolm Bell had 15 points with four 3s, and 6-8 junior Dachaun Anderson and 6-5 sophomore Kendale Anderson dominated inside.
"They're big and when you add (Cleveland), he gave us a nightmare," Dwyer said.
"The game plan was simple. Make them hit shots first. Then they're hitting shots. Then it comes down to making adjustments and we had a few turnovers that we should have take care of the ball better. But they're a good team."
In the second half St. Francis made 13 of 25 shots with four 3s, yet Leo was 18 of 30 with four 3s.
Kendale Anderson's buzzer-beating 3 created a 49-30 lead after three quarters and Leo opened the fourth quarter with two quick baskets. The teams exchanged bombs and fastbreak baskets the final six minutes.
"I would say probably a 'C' (grade performance)," Leo coach Shawn Frison said.
"We didn't execute that well defensively. I'm pleased with the victory but I'm just looking for improvement. That's part of our objective, to win every quarter. Fred Cleveland played an excellent game, controlling the ball at the top."
The Spartans are hopeful Friday's strong start is a sign of things to come.
"I think we're in a pretty good place (overall)," Harvey said. "We haven't been able to finish games. We've been getting out pretty slow. We haven't been finishing, but we'll get there."