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Considering the Lyons Township and OPRF boys basketball teams have claimed a combined eight West Suburban (Silver) Conference championships since 2002, it's easy to see why the intriguing matchup is the best in the league.
While a conference title wasn't at stake on Friday night in Western Springs, the host Lions earned some considerable bragging rights over the highly-regarded Huskies with a 61-52 victory. OPRF won the previous meeting this season, 56-42, in Oak Park back on Dec. 22.
Friday night's rematch featured a packed gym with an electric atmosphere as LT hosted its second Black Out Night, a fundraiser in memory of former LT student Kelly O'Laughlin, who was murdered in 2011.
With the score knotted at 24-all midway through the third quarter, LT went on a 13-2 run courtesy of two buckets from sophomore point guard Harrison Niego and a trio of consecutive three-pointers from senior swingman Christopher O'Reilly to give the Lions some breathing room at 37-26.
"I was hoping in the second half some of my shots would start to fall," said O'Reilly, who went scoreless in the first half. "Guys did a good job of driving and kicking the ball out to me when I was open. Luckily, my shots went down.
"This is a huge win for us," O'Reilly added. "Hopefully, it gives us some momentum for the state playoffs."
OPRF (14-8, 5-4) responded to the Lions' surge with an 11-4 run to pull back within 41-37 early in the fourth quarter. OPRF junior guard Erick Locke answered O'Reilly's flurry of treys with a pair of three-pointers and Alex Gustafson added a three as well during the Huskies' push.
With OPRF trailing 48-41 with 3:41 left in the game, Gustafson nailed another trey and Locke split a pair of free throws to make the score 48-45 in favor of LT at the 2:20 mark.
The Lions (11-12, 3-7) iced the game, however, as Niego went 7-for-8 from the free-throw line the rest of the way and Jarryd Heath chipped in a couple of timely layups. Niego netted a game-high 20 points, while O'Reilly scored all 14 of his points in the second half. Reserve Sam Cybulski scored 16 points for LT, including 12 in the first half to keep the Lions within striking distance — trailing 19-16 at halftime.
"Sam came off the bench and did a great job for us," LT coach Tom Sloan said. "We really have like seven starters, and Sam played about 26 minutes for us [tonight]. He got us going with some layups and free throws, played great defense, and he was very aggressive overall."
Locke led OPRF with 17 points and Gustafson contributed 15 points on five three-pointers. Six-foot-9, 240-pound senior center Virgil Allen added eight points and senior guard Jakari Cammon chipped in seven points. Overall, the Huskies connected on 8-of-27 from behind the three-point line.
"I thought we played hard, but we didn't play smart," OPRF coach Matt Maloney said.
The Huskies have lost four of five games, while the Lions are on a three-game winning streak.