The battle for Oak Park high school boys basketball supremacy took place once again at the 6th annual Chicago Elite Classic hosted by the University of Illinois at Chicago on Friday night.
Fenwick, which had defeated Oak Park and River Forest the past five years in a row, was looking to make it six straight wins in front of a supportive Friar Nation fan base at the UIC Pavilion. However, the Huskies' Dog Pound student section also appeared in strong numbers making the rivalry between fans almost as entertaining as the players.
On the court, the Huskies' depth and speed proved to be too much for Fenwick. OPRF held the lead the entire game en route to a 64-59 win and bragging rights on East Avenue.
"We have guys on the team that knew the feeling of losing to Fenwick last year," OPRF senior guard Isaiah Fuller said. "There was a lot of trash talking going on. We were not going to let them make it six years straight."
All eyes in the venue were dialed into Friday night's intense finale of the two-day event.
"Six years straight!" chants emanated from the Santa-themed Fenwick student section, while a sea of orange-clad OPRF students yelled back, "It's not Christmas!" The students were just as ready for tip-off as the players.
Fuller opened up the game with a deep 3-pointer, eliciting plenty of cheers from the Huskie fans. After Fenwick junior guard Damari Nixon put the Friars on the board with a smooth baseline floater, OPRF junior forward Charlie Hoehne buried a three.
The Huskies' hot start continued with another Fuller 3-pointer, two nice drives from OPRF junior Chase Robinson, and a three from senior Sid Allgood. OPRF built the largest lead of the game at 17-9.
Fenwick senior Sam Daniels answered Allgood's three with a corner triple for Fenwick to make the score 17-12 in favor of the Huskies with 1:15 left in the first quarter.
To close out the period, OPRF junior Dashon Enoch finished at the rim in transition, scoring the bucket and drawing a foul. Completing the and-one opportunity, Enoch made it 20-16 at the end of one quarter.
Enoch opened the second quarter with a tough layup in traffic to make it 22-16. However, senior AJ Nixon and sophomore DJ Steward kept the Friars close after each hitting a 3-pointer. Leading 25-22 OPRF at the six-minute mark of the second quarter, the Huskies quickly extended the lead to 29-22 with a bucket in transition from senior Malachi Ross.
Fenwick's Nixon-duo of Damari and AJ put together five points to continue knocking on the door. With a minute left in the second quarter, Fenwick junior Solomon Oraegbu hauled in a rebound and scored.
OPRF, off to a 5-0 start this season, led 35-30 at halftime.
The rivals' back-and-forth play carried over into the third quarter. Fuller and Steward dueled in the opening few minutes of the second half. Fuller scored or assisted on the Huskies' opening three baskets, while Steward scored the Friars' first six points.
Halfway through the third, the Huskies led 42-36 when OPRF senior forward/center Phil Saleh provided a spark off the bench. Saleh tallied on two more after a nice post move, followed by a Damari Nixon two. Nixon did not allow the Huskies to crack open the lead. Nixon got to the rim with ease for a bucket and the foul, cutting the lead to 44-43.
Allgood nailed a three for OPRF, only to be answered by a basket by Damari Nixon. The Huskies added two more baskets to make it 51-45 at the end of the third quarter.
The Friars came out strong in the fourth quarter. Baskets from senior Mike O'Laughlin and AJ Nixon whittled the Huskies' lead to 51-49, forcing OPRF coach Matt Maloney to call a timeout.
The Huskies answered again with baskets from Saleh and Robinson to extend their lead to 55-49. Fenwick flirted with taking the lead often in the second half but simply couldn't break through.
"It was an unforgettable experience," Fenwick senior swingman Billy Bruce said about playing in the Chicago Elite Classic. "Oak Park is a special town for high school hoops. Both student sections were unbelievable and it made the experience special. Despite this tough loss, it will serve as motivation the rest of the season."
The turning point in the game occurred at the 3:58 mark of the fourth quarter. Fenwick's AJ Nixon received a technical foul, which translated to a pair of made free throws from Fuller. The Huskies regained possession after the tech and capitalized. OPRF began to sense the end with the score at 59-51 with 2:20 left.
However, the battle-tested Friars produced one final rally. In the last two minutes, Fenwick played the foul game and scored some quick points. After an Enoch missed free throw, Daniels finished a tough left-handed layup with 1:10 remaining to make the score 59-56.
Enoch, who was sent back to the line with a chance to seal the deal, missed another free throw. Damari Nixon came down the court with 44 seconds left, drew the foul, and knocked down two free throws. The Friars' 7-0 run made it a one-point game as OPRF led 59-58.
The Huskies then broke the Friars' full-court pressure with a wide open layup from Allgood. Fenwick couldn't execute coming the other way, and Fuller hit 1 of 2 free throws.
The score was 62-58 with 13 seconds remaining. Damari Nixon hit 1 of 2 to make it a one possession game at 62-59 with 5.4 seconds left. Fenwick, trying to get a steal, instead watched Enoch score a wide open layup to close it out.
The OPRF bench stormed the court in celebration.
"OPRF came out shooting the ball really well which opened up driving lanes for them," Bruce said. "They made the plays they needed to make to win and we didn't get enough stops down the stretch. This is a learning experience for us and a great game to have under our belts. If we want to accomplish our goals this year, we'll need a defensive mentality."
Fuller (19 points, 6 assists), Robinson (9 points, 6 rebounds), Allgood (8 points), Enoch (8 points) and Saleh (8 points) led a balanced OPRF attack.
Along with Fuller's stellar effort against Fenwick, the maturation of the talented Enoch has sparked the Huskies' auspicious start this season. Enoch earned MVP honors at the Bill VandeMerkt Thanksgiving Classic to open the season.
"Personally, I feel like I've grown a lot as a person and player since last year," Enoch said. "I knew I was ready for this moment. We were all ready as a team. We came out with energy and played five as one just like coach (Maloney) said."
Damari Nixon (18 points), Steward (13 points), Mike O'Laughlin (9 points) and AJ Nixon (8 points) played well for Fenwick. (4-3).
The Friars bounced back with a 65-42 win against St. Francis in Wheaton on Saturday, Dec. 2. O'Laughlin led the way with a team-high 17 points. Steward and and AJ Nixon contributed 13 points apiece.
Answer Book 2018
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