Huskies hit stride at home

? Bench steps up in absence of Hilton.

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By BRENDAN MURPHY

The Oak Park and River Forest basketball team went cold at the wrong time in Saturday night's match up against traditional basketball power New Trier. The Huskies (5-2, 1-1) hit only 6 of 11 free throw attempts and saw a 9-point lead reduced to one inside the game's final minute. The Trevians (3-5) however, were unable to capitalize on their final two scoring opportunities, allowing the Huskies to escape with a 43-40 victory. 

Following the game, OPRF head coach Al Allen said that the Huskies must improve their free throw shooting down the stretch in order to win close games.

"Free throw percentages really only matter in the fourth quarter in real basketball. In the fourth quarter you have got to be shooting 75 or 80 percent from the free-throw line," Allen said. 

It was evident from the opening tip that the Huskies, who led the entire game, had a noticeable advantage inside. Bulky forward Robert Strzemp had 15 points and seven rebounds, leading the Huskies in both categories. Strzemp and his counterpart, forward Brandon Lathon (9 points 5 rebounds) were a tough match up for New Trier's big men.  Gabe Sims' (10 points) ability to knock down the perimeter jumper made the Trevians think twice before double-teaming the Huskies' interior players. 

OPRF also received notable contributions from bench players Rotimi Daramola (4 points, 3 rebounds) and Jason Simmons (3 points, 3 rebounds). Allen hopes the Huskies can continue to receive major contributions from their reserves as they wait for their leading scorer Evan Hilton to return in January.

"We work on depth everyday because we know that when our star gets back theses guys will be seasoned veterans.  We need every body during the week to make us better during the game," Allen said. 

The Trevians' offensive strategy leaned heavily on the 3-point field goal. New Trier, who struggled with getting to the basket against OPRF's quicker players, set a lot of picks to try and free up their skilled shooters. Guard Ben Kaplan was effective early for the Trevians, scoring 10 points in the first half, all of which came off perimeter jump shots.

OPRF showed a variety of different defensive looks, making sure that the Trevians never looked comfortable on offense. The Huskies played a combination of full-court press and half-court trap for the majority of the game and held the sharp-shooting Trevians to seven 3-point field goals. The combination of  OPRF's quicker guards, and the defense of 6-foot-6-inch center Howard Boone (3 blocks, 5 rebounds) made it difficult for the Trevians to get many good looks inside. 

The Huskies led 23-16 at the half; and their lead was not seriously threatened until the fourth quarter when they began their shooting slump. 

"I think we played poorly during the fourth quarter; we did not finish on our layups.  We have to finish at the end of games," said Allen.  

Friday's contest against West Suburban (Silver) Conference foe Glenbard West (2-4,0-2) saw the Huskies put together what could be considered their most complete performance of the season. Simmons had 20 points in leading the Huskies to a convincing 66-46 victory. The Huskies broke the game open in the third quarter with a 16-2 run. The win was the Huskies' first in conference.   

While he doesn't think his team is in playoff form, Allen is very pleased with getting a pair of wins at home following last week's loss to Lyons Township. 

"It is always great to win two games in a row, especially when you beat a conference opponent on Friday and beat a traditionally quality opponent on Saturday," Allen said.

The Huskies continue conference play this Friday against York at home. The following week they will head down to Pontiac for the Pontiac Holiday Tournament. 

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