Highland P. 29
In the closing minutes of the OPRF boys basketball team’s impressive 49-29 win over Highland Park, Huskie fans serenaded the visiting Giants with a mocking chorus of “overrated.”
The chant must have sounded ironic to OPRF coach Al Allen and his players, who were subject to similar unjust skepticism after a 5-4 start to the season. Since that relatively shaky stretch of games, which included losses to ranked teams Zion-Benton, Evanston and Lyons Township, the Huskies (18-5) have been virtually unstoppable, rattling off 13 wins in 14 games.
“This was the biggest game of the year for us,” Allen said. “It was big because of our inability to do what we needed to do against Evanston, Zion-Benton and Lyons. This was our first attempt to beat a team with a really good record so it meant a lot to us.”
As for Highland Park (16-4), knocking off the red-hot Huskies proved too tall an order as Iman Shumpert (21 points, 8 rebounds and 4 steals) and Daniel Barnes (15 points, 5 rebounds) led the OPRF charge.
In the early going, Highland Park had the hot hand as Josh Bartelstein (9 points) canned a pair of 3-pointers to lift the Giants to a 12-10 lead at the end of the first quarter.
On the Huskies’ last two possessions of the first half, Barnes and Shumpert each sank a 3-pointer, courtesy of multiple screens and patient passing that staked OPRF to a 23-19 advantage.
Adam Taylor’s customary inspired effort and two baskets early in the third quarter ignited a 9-2 run by the Huskies which extended their lead to 32-21 at the 3:15 mark of the period.
Shumpert added five points, highlighted by a killer crossover move that almost twisted the Giants’ Johnny Lindquist’s ankles. In fact, the Georgia Tech-bound Shumpert had a slam dunk and spectacular blocked shot that displayed his jaw-dropping athleticism during the Comcast broadcast, which aired the non-conference battle live as its “High School Game of the Week.”
Barnes threw down a one-handed dunk of his own off a steal in the third period.
“We have been playing really good team ball,” said OPRF guard Marcus Acree. “Our practices have been better and we’re playing good defense.”
Highland Park shot 4-for-21 in the second half while being outscored 26-10 by the quicker Huskies. The OPRF defense, which has been the catalyst to the team’s winning streak, caused 15 turnovers from Highland Park.
“We came out in the second half and just didn’t do as good a job taking care of the basketball,” said Highland Park coach Paul Harris. “Obviously, our guys are disappointed but we played a real good defensive team tonight.”
Several role players like Levell Coppage, Kyle Glancy, Blake Austin, Clarke Cuthbert, Seth Kazarian and Acree supply OPRF with depth, versatility and unselfish play.
“All we talked about in the locker room was what a great team victory this was for us,” Allen said. “The difference from the start of the season till now is that we can play fast or we can play slow. Against Highland Park, we took only one bad shot all night.”
Coppage (3 assists, 3 rebounds) is a shining example of the Huskies’ selfless play. The 5-foot-8 senior hounded the Giants’ best player, Steve Wroblewski (9 points), the entire second half, limiting the sharp-shooting, Cornell-bound guard’s scoring chances
“Everybody has a role on our team,” Coppage said. “Some of us are scorers; some of us are defensive players. [Wroblewski] is a good guard, but my goal was to shut him down. I had to do my job to help my team win.”