Despite a strong defensive first half against Downers Grove North Friday night, missed free throws and foul trouble eventually doomed the OPRF boys' basketball team as the Huskies dropped a nail-biter in overtime 46-44.
The Huskies (8-6, 2-3) played an impressive first half especially at the defensive end of the court, and, thanks largely to a strong eight-point contribution off the bench from Dwight James, jumped to an early lead which held late into the fourth quarter.
James' 12 points led the Huskies, who had three players foul out in the fourth quarter. Despite the mismatch, OPRF held a commanding lead, but failed to regain its offensive rhythm as the point production all but stopped. Downers Grove shifted its strategy and began fouling OPRF down the stretch. The plan paid off as the Huskies could not hit their free throws and the Trojans slowly crept back into the game.
With 12 seconds left, and Downers North down by three, the Trojans' best shooter stepped up and nailed a 3-pointer, despite the defensive presence of the Huskies' Tom Severson, to send the game into overtime.
The Trojans took the lead, going up by two with 10 seconds left and giving OPRF one final chance at tying or winning the game. According to OPRF head coach Al Allen, his team did not run the play his staff drew up.
"The inbound ended up being right next to where I was standing," said a disappointed Allen. "I told the players exactly what they would see, and what play we wanted, and they simply didn't run that play."
Foul trouble kept OPRF's main scoring threat, Robert Strzemp on the bench for most of the game. The senior power forward fouled out with nine points and 10 rebounds.
"We were down so many big men due to foul trouble that eventually we had Tom Severson, who has played point guard all year, down at power forward," said Allen.
The loss is especially tough for a Huskies team that has already struggled this year in large part due to injuries. One of the Huskies' top scorers, Evan Hilton, has been out since late November with a broken foot. Howard Boone, another key player, is currently out with a strained knee.
OPRF also fell 58-56 in overtime to Proviso West in a turnover-plagued game on Jan. 5. Both teams combined to turn the ball over a total of 48 times in the conference match-up. OPRF's Brandon Lathon managed to tie the game up at 51 on a layup with less than a minute left in regulation. The Panthers prevailed in the extra period when Darious Watson nailed a 3-pointer with 17 seconds left.
Strzemp had led all scorers with 24 points, while Gabe Sims added 15 for the Huskies, who host Proviso East Friday at 7:30 p.m. The team then travels to Bremen for a 6 p.m. game on Saturday.
"We have had several tough losses in a row where we have just fallen short. We have to just keep finding a way," said Allen.