A special atmosphere permeated the Oak Park and River Forest field house on Saturday night. With pregame festivities including a ceremony honoring head coach Al Allen’s 400th career coaching victory and a stirring rendition of the Star Spangled Banner performed by two OPRF students, the Huskies added more highlights during the game but ultimately fell short, literally, in a 57-52 loss to Glenbard West.

To paraphrase Clive Barker’s opening soliloquy in the film, “Inside Man”, the taller Hilltoppers had a plan; and here’s the rub, they executed it-precisely. The Huskies, who gave up 19 offensive rebounds, won’t necessarily need to review game film to realize this conference upset was clearly an inside job led by the Hilltoppers’ 6-foot-7 junior John Shurna.

Shurna, a rising star in the West Suburban (Silver) Conference, dominated the paint with 24 points and 15 rebounds. His front court mates, 6-8 Duncan Lawson (11 points) and 6-4 Brandon Venson (19 points, eight rebounds) also provided rebounding and leadership on both ends of the floor.

“Our guys played very hard and I was very proud of their effort,” Allen said. “We could not overcome the height problem. We tried by playing great, great defense, but we could not handle the height problem in terms of rebounding. My hat’s off to Glenbard [West] for the way they crashed the boards, and the way they inflicted their will on us running an inside game no matter what.”

Two minutes into the game, the Huskies’ Iman Shumpert (10 points, 10 rebounds) drove along the baseline and elevated for a spectacular one-handed dunk to give OPRF a 5-4 lead. Surprisingly, that would be the last lead the Huskies would enjoy as Shurna plied his trade in the lane, scoring 11 first-quarter points.

“I thought we did a pretty good job of handling their pressure,” Shurna said. “Oak Park is a really good team that is very quick.”

With the score tied at 28, Glenbard West (14-5, 4-4) went on a19-5 run to build a 47-33 lead with 7:03 remaining in the game. The resilient Huskies picked up their defense and responded with a 15-5 spurt of their own. Daniel Barnes scored six points and Shumpert added five during the frenzied rally to shrink the Hilltoppers’ lead to 52-48 with 52 seconds left. However, Venson sank four free throws the rest of the way to seal the win for Glenbard West.

“We had a lot of deflections [today] defensively, but we just didn’t get our hands on the basketball under control,” Shumpert said. “A lot of times when we had the ball on the break, we didn’t finish in transition. We live and we die with our running game, so we are going to continue to do it. It was an off day for us.”

The Huskies (16-4) picked up the tempo on Saturday night as they cruised to a 65-40 conference win at York. Shumpert led the charge with 19 points, while Phil Gary and Lamont Sanders contributed 12 and 11 points respectively, to complete the season sweep over the Dukes.

“We need to stay positive,” Gary said. “There are still a lot of games to be played.”

Both OPRF and Proviso West claim a share of first place in the West Suburban (Silver) with 6-1 records; however, the Huskies have the inside track to a conference title with an earlier win at Proviso West. The Panthers visit OPRF for a showdown on Friday, Feb.16, which will go a long way in determining the league champion.

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Marty Farmer

The Illinois Press Association recently honored Marty with the 1st & 2nd Place Awards for Best Sports Feature for his article He's in an Oak Park state of mind: Former OPRF star Iman Shumpert returns...