The Oak Park and River Forest boys’ basketball team relied on the play of both the usual and unexpected suspects in the Huskies’ 53-45 win over Hinsdale Central at the Fieldhouse on Friday.
Robert Strzemp was reliable as always, pouring in a game-high 15 points. Jason Pontone came off the bench to tally 12 points and help the struggling Huskies to their fourth win in the West Suburban (Silver) Conference.
OPRF’s offense wasn’t exactly clicking from the get-go. After Strzemp nailed a 3-pointer to begin the game, the Huskies got off to a slow start offensively, failing to score on there next several possessions. OPRF head coach Al Allen quickly went to his bench, and for the remainder of the quarter fielded a very young team, with a freshman, three juniors, and a senior on the floor.
The Huskies (10-8, 4-3) snagged an eight point lead thanks in part to the play of both Pontone, and freshman Iman Shumpert, at both ends of the court. Pontone had two steals, and Shumpert hounded the Red Devil ball handlers, forcing bad passes and ill-advised shots. The Huskies took a 16-8 lead at the end of the first quarter. Shumpert finished the game with seven points and three assists.
Hinsdale Central (8-8, 4-2) improved on both sides of the ball in the second quarter, most notably slowing Strzemp. Every time the senior forward caught the ball inside, the Red Devils’ zone defense collapsed on him.
“They managed to shut Robert (Strzemp) down, but he drew the attention away from Jason (Pontone) and fortunately Jason was able to hit his shots,” said Allen.
At the other end, Hinsdale Central began feeding the ball down low to their 6-foot-6-inch center Jim Hudson, who scored six of his 12 points in the second quarter. The Red Devils also relied on 6-foot-3-inch swingman, Pat Morris, who finished with 11 points.
“Our inability to stop Morris really hurt us. No one could match his energy and he just ran all over us,” said Allen.
Even with the increased offensive output from the Red Devils, OPRF continued to score, and despite only two field goals in the first half, went into the break leading 27-20.
The Huskies looked a little shaky to begin the second half, as the Red Devils rapidly closed the gap. Hinsdale Central’s Dan Portschy scored almost all of his 12 points in the third quarter.
“They switched to a sp read offense in the third, and we were simply unable to defend it,” said Allen.
OPRF also began to get sloppy with the basketball, and were outscored 12-11 in the third quarter to bring the score to within six points. The Red Devils kept up the pressure well into the fourth quarter and trimmed OPRF’s lead to three on a Portschy 3-pointer with about five minutes remaining in the game. But the Huskies managed to put together three defensive stops in a row, including two steals which led directly to layups. With 2:41 remaining, the Huskies led by nine.
Allen said he was happy to see his reserves respond offensively.
“Pontone had a career game. We would’ve been hard pressed to win with out his play tonight,” he said.
Despite the win and the play off the bench, Allen said he was not totally pleased with the performance, but still hopes to use the victory to help his team jump back into the running in the WSC.
“Hopefully, this will springboard us into the second half of the conference season,” he said. “We still need to do a better job offensively. This team doesn’t give up a lot of points, but they don’t score many either.”
The Huskies may get a boost offensively this Friday as guard Evan Hilton may be back from an ankle injury. It will be Hilton’s first game since the Evanston Thanksgiving tournament. The Huskies will also get center Howard Boone back from a knee injury. OPRF travels to WSC leader and 19th-ranked Lyons Township on Friday (7:30 p.m.).