By Marty Farmer
Two dress rehearsals took place on Friday night at Oak Park and River Forest High School. While OPRF students from the performing arts held a dress rehearsal of "Fiddler on the Roof," the boys basketball team simultaneously faced York in its own tune-up of sorts for the rapidly approaching Class 4A playoffs.
And although OPRF didn't exactly turn in a four-star performance against the Dukes, the surging Huskies still managed to pull off an important 54-50 conference win before a packed field house. The game was aired by CN100, the Comcast Network as its "Game of the Week."
The victory served meaningful on several fronts: OPRF (19-6, 8-4) avenged a two-point loss earlier in the season to York (24-3, 10-2), while also denying the Dukes a share of the West Suburban Conference Silver Division title with champion Hinsdale Central (20-6, 11-1). More importantly, the hard-fought game offered a taste (thankfully victorious) of the kinds of intense games that assuredly await OPRF in the postseason.
Leading York 29-27 early in the third quarter on Friday, the Huskies hit their stride with an 18-5 run over the remainder of the period and half of the fourth quarter to claim a seemingly comfortable 47-32 advantage with 4:19 left in the game. Point guard Erick Locked netted nine points during the Huskies' run.
"In the third quarter, we just turned the keys over to Erick and told him to take us home," OPRF coach Matt Maloney said. "He's a fantastic player who can get in the paint and distribute or score the basketball. He's just an unselfish player who does whatever it takes for us to win."
Senior forward Simmie Cobbs contributed a spectacular one-handed breakaway dunk to emphatically close the extended spurt.
The Dukes answered with an 11-0 run, however, to pull within 47-43 at the 2:01 mark of the fourth quarter. With OPRF holding a 51-47 lead with 35 seconds left, Cobbs scooped up a loose ball and again broke free but missed a dunk attempt which kept the Dukes' hopes alive.
"I just missed it," Cobbs said. "I should have just laid the ball in, but I was trying to take all the confidence out of York."
Cobbs quickly made up for the miscue when he stole a pass with York trailing 53-50 in the closing seconds. After being fouled, Cobbs calmly sank a free throw with 1.2 seconds remaining to preserve the Huskies' 54-50 victory.
Locke led OPRF with14 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and two steals. Cobbs was predictably active with 14 points and 13 rebounds (nine offensive rebounds), while senior center Javonni Harrell finished with 11 points and eight boards. Jason Gant scored eight points and Elliot Greffin contributed seven points and seven rebounds for OPRF.
"We played more like a team [tonight]. We moved the ball around and had balanced scoring," Gant said. "York is the top seed in our sectional so beating them is good for our confidence."
Jayvon Thomas scored a game-high 19 points and Charlie Rose contributed 15 points for York. Frank Toohey, the Dukes' 6-foot-8-inch star center who will play basketball at the Air Force Academy next season, was effectively held in check by Harrell.
"Everybody was trying to get into my head [about Toohey] but I just tried to play my best," Harrell said. "My job is to rebound and do everything I can defensively to shut down our opponent's best big man. I have to thank our fans. If it wasn't for them, I don't think we would have gotten this big win."
OPRF owned the glass, with a 40-21rebounding advantage over York. On the flipside, the Huskies' high number of turnovers (15) coupled with poor free throw shooting, including 5 of 12 over the final two minutes (16-for-27 overall), aided the Dukes' late comeback.
"I like where we are right now as a basketball team," Maloney said. "I think we're trending upward. We just need to clean some stuff up in terms of closing out games the right way."
OPRF visit Downers Grove South Feb. 26 (7:30 pm) in its regular season finale.
"One of our goals was to get 20 wins before the playoffs start," Cobbs said. "We have an opportunity to get that done [against Downers Grove South]."