NEPA Sports Nation

Career mark, season-saving shot all part of Patriot semi for O’Boyle

Leo O’Boyle. (Hannah Ally Photo)

By Tom Robinson,

Leo O’Boyle started Sunday by completing a career milestone pursuit.

By the time Lafayette College’s Patriot League men’s basketball semifinal was over, O’Boyle had extended his senior season in his most exciting and significant single-game effort.

O’Boyle went 6-for-9 from beyond the arc, moving an 11-22 Leopards team within a game of March Madness with a season-extending 3-pointer late in the first overtime and following it up with the biggest play of a second-overtime runaway by Lafayette.

The Scranton Prep graduate came within one point of his career-high by scoring 23 in the 84-76 victory over American University.

O’Boyle surpassed the 1,000-point career mark early in the game. His four-point play was the key to Lafayette breaking away for good.

There was a time when the legitimate question surrounding Lafayette and O’Boyle was whether the Leopards, a team that started 0-4, 1-11 and 2-14, would be around long enough for their leading scorer to reach the milestone.

“I knew at the end of the regular season I was only (19) away,” O’Boyle said Monday night in a telephone interview. “I knew if I just got to two or three games, I would get it. I just kept focusing on that on winning the games and I would just get it as the flow of the postseason goes on.”

Now, the question is whether Lafayette might be the team with the worst record in the field when the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I tournament field is filled Sunday.

The Leopards will play for the Patriot League title at top-seeded Colgate Wednesday at 7:30 in a game televised by the CBS Sports Network. They already won at third-seeded Lehigh, 71-64, in a quarterfinal game in which O’Boyle scored 14 to move his career total to 995.

O’Boyle missed a 3-pointer on the opening possession Sunday, but hit his next for a 9-4 lead with 13:50 left in the half. Another miss was followed by a 3-pointer from the top of the key to pass the milestone with 7:25 left for a 23-10 lead.

“Leo O’Boyle as a senior stepped up huge,” acting head coach Mike McGarvey said in a postgame interview on the CBS Sports Network broadcast. “I’m really happy for him in front of this crowd for the last time he’ll play at Kirby.”

The two early 3-pointers by O’Boyle were among the eight Lafayette hit in a 32-12 start in the first 18 minutes.

Still, an American comeback left Lafayette behind late in regulation and in serious trouble late in the first overtime when it trailed by five until the last 17 seconds.

“The shock of being down four or five points when you were up by 20 at halftime, you never really want to have happen to you,” O’Boyle said. “Unfortunately, we’ve been in that situation before and, luckily, that helped us out.

“We got some good plays at the end of the first overtime to get the momentum swing. After that, the atmosphere and our crowd helped us pull it out in the second overtime.”

Down three, O’Boyle settled into the left corner in transition, received a pass from underneath and buried a corner jumper for the tie with 4.6 seconds left to force that additional five minutes.

“That’s an end-of-game situation, we’ve been practicing that exact situation, that exact play,” O’Boyle said. “Usually we want to go for two in that situation, but you just hope that somebody crashes in on defense, leaving a shooter open.”

As it turned out, American left the wrong shooter open.

“A corner three with a couple seconds and just a little bit of a defensive hand up, you can’t think of a better look than that,” he said. “As soon as he caught it, I knew T.J. (Berger) was going to make the right pass to the corner. Luckily, I made the shot.

“I felt it was going in as soon as I shot it. I kind of love those moments to make those big shots. It’s what you live for.

“I know I made a bunch of them back in high school, but it’s been quite some time since I had to make a big shot like that. It definitely felt good to see that ball go in the hoop.”

After scoring the last five of the first overtime, Lafayette scored the first 10 of the second overtime.

O’Boyle had seven of the points in the 15-0 run.

His four-point play – a 3-pointer from the right corner while drawing a foul shot that he hit – opened a 72-66 lead with 2:35 left.

“The four-point play in the corner, that’s his specialty here,” McGarvey said.

It comes from having a shot that’s difficult to block.

“Over the past four years I’ve had so many because when I shoot the ball, I shoot behind my head and I jump forward,” O’Boyle said. “You can’t block my shot, so when they try to block it, I jump right into them.

“ … It was the second overtime, so we were trying not to force anything and just get good looks. That was a perfect situation, baseline and kicked it out to corner, another great look.

“Luckily, they called the foul. It’s a rarity nowadays in college because they’re focusing so much on flops. I’m glad they gave me that one.”

O’Boyle has another year of eligibility because of COVID rules in the NCAA and has been in the Transfer Portal since early in the season. After graduating with a government law degree in the spring, the 6-foot-7 forward will head elsewhere with plans to play another season while pursuing post-graduate studies that are not available at Lafayette.

For now, O’Boyle will try to keep extending his Lafayette career into college sports’ biggest event.

“I’m playing every game right now like it’s my last,” he said. “I don’t want this to be over just yet.”

Lafayette, predicted to finish last in a preseason poll of coaches in the 10-team league, would need to avenge 69-57 and 73-69 losses to continue its season into the Big Dance. Sixth-place Lafayette went 7-11 in the Patriot League while Colgate was the regular-season champ at 17-1.

“Our offenses are pretty much the exact same,” O’Boyle said. “We run the same system.

“When we match up, they know what we’re running; we know what they’re running. It’s not really about watching film at this point. It’s really about going out there knowing what we’ve got to do and getting the job done.

“They’re a great team and have been a great team for many years.”

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