The frigid air outside the fieldhouse at Oak Park and River Forest High School on Saturday afternoon may have seeped in through the doors during the Huskies’ conference finale against Proviso West. Cold shooting in the first half doomed OPRF as the team fell 79-69 to finish the season 7-5 in the West Suburban (Silver) Conference.
Trailing 21-10 after the opening period, the Huskies (14-8) hit just three field goals out of 15 shot attempts in the second quarter, but managed to keep within reach of the Panthers (18-9, 7-5) by making 10 of 11 shots from the free-throw line. They went into halftime down 41-27.
The Huskies’ desperation to make a basket in the second quarter led to a dunk attempt. Iman Shumpert spotted an open lane late in the second quarter and went baseline to assure a basket, but was thwarted by a Proviso West defender. The Panthers caught the dunk bug, and slammed two in the second half.
The one bright spot for OPRF early in the game was Lamont Sanders, who scored 10 of his 18 points in the first half. The junior forward was a perfect 5-for-5 from the line in the second quarter.
With a scarce crowd thinning by the minute, OPRF began to chip away at the 14-point deficit early in the third quarter. Shumpert’s three-pointer with 5:38 to go in the period put the Huskies to within seven. OPRF came as close as five points in the third, and lost the aggressive play of Jason Pontone. The senior center fouled out with 1:06 left in the period.
The Huskies were handed an opportunity in the fourth. Trailing 69-59 with 5:09 to play, OPRF clawed away at the lead and got help from the Panthers, who shot poorly from the free-throw line (10 of 19 in fourth). With a little over a minute left, Shumpert stole the ball and sprinted down court for a layup. The shot trickled off the rim, but Jason Simmons was there for the putback. The basket put the Huskies to within four, before Proviso West’s Justin Hightower halted the uprising with a jumper.
Hightower (16 points) was one of four Panthers that finished in double-digit scoring. Phillip White led the Panthers with 18, while Dexter Strothers had 10 and Marcus Head 13.
Simmons scored all of his 12 points in the second half for the Huskies, while Shumpert chipped in 11 points in the game.
It was the second straight conference loss for OPRF, who fell 66-58 to Hinsdale Central on Senior Night in Oak Park the evening before. Both losses cancelled out any chance at a third straight conference title for the Huskies, who needed to win their final two games to at least share the title with York.
The team travels to Maywood tonight (7:30 p.m.) for their regular season finale, a conference cross-over game against Proviso East.
The sixth-seeded Huskies host the Oak Park Regional to begin next week, and will play the winner of Austin versus Orr on March 1 (7:30 p.m.).