Fenwick junior Mike Smith (21) drives the ball up court during their game against OPRF in the BlueCross BlueShield Chicago Elite Classic at the UIC Pavilion on Friday, December 5, 2014. | Chandler West/Staff Photographer

The Fenwick High School and Oak Park and River Forest High School boys basketball teams both feature a plethora of talented perimeter players. The best of the bunch, Friars’ guard Mike Smith, started fast and finished even better on Friday, lifting the Friars over the Huskies 48-40 at the opening game of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Chicago Elite Classic at UIC.

The 5-9 junior scored the first basket of the game on a lay-up and added a three-pointer a few possessions later to cap off a 9-0 spurt over the opening four minutes. With Fenwick up 43-38 midway through the fourth quarter, Smith struck again by scoring five of the Friars’ final seven points en route to their 48-40 victory. He finished with 18 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two assists.

“[Fenwick] Coach [Rick Malnati] is pushing me and I’m learning,” Smith said. “I have a whole year left after this one, but I’m learning quickly and its helping our team get better. I’m working on everything, whether it’s shooting, coming off screens, playing better defense and being a leader.”

Smith, a high-major Division I prospect, is already attracting recruiting interest from Iowa, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

After their inauspicious start, the Huskies worked their way back into Friday’s meeting against their cross-town rivals. Senior guard Dallis Flowers scored on a lay-up at 3:44 of the first quarter to get OPRF on the scoreboard. Fenwick outscored OPRF 22-16 the rest of the first half, however, to take a 31-18 lead at the break. Still, at least OPRF was in range to conceivably pull off a comeback win.

The Huskies (3-2) really made their move midway through the third quarter. Trailing 35-24, OPRF went on an 8-0 run to whittle the Friars’ advantage to 35-32 after three quarters. OPRF freshman Alan Griffin scored seven points via a top of the key three-pointer and two tough baskets inside the paint, sparking the Huskies’ 14-4 scoring edge in the third quarter.

“We played better defense in the second half,” Flowers said. “We made some lay ups and kept going hard to the basket in the paint. We have to start faster than we did [tonight] because we’re already a small team so we need to get going right away. Playing good defense and using our athleticism is what we need to do to win.”

After a basket by the Huskies’ Connor Fuller cut the Friars’ lead to 39-38 with 4:52 left in the game, Fenwick scored nine of the game’s final 11 points.

In support of Smith’s strong performance, sophomore swingman Jamal Nixon scored 10 points and pulled down eight rebounds, while junior forward Mike Ballard had eight points and six boards. Kevin Owens and Jacob Keller chipped in six points and four points, respectively.

“We are playing really well,” said Ballard, who attended St. Giles. “This was a really big game for me. A lot of my childhood friends are at OPRF. They were talking trash before the game, so it felt really good to go out there and beat them.”

 After the game, the Fenwick players went over to celebrate the victory with its sizeable student body/fans sections. In fact, both teams enjoyed an abundance of fan support at the game, much more than the following games pitting St. Joseph against Redondo Union (Calif.) and Whitney Young vs. Southwind (Tenn.)

Flowers paced OPRF with a game-high 21 points, while the promising Griffin, the son of former NBA player and current Chicago Bulls assistant coach Adrian Griffin, had seven points and rebounds. Breshawn Wilkerson and Fuller finished with six points apiece as only four OPRF players scored.

“We could have done better job communicating,” Griffin said. “We just have to come out and give it our all every game. We have to dig deep but we didn’t dig deep enough [against Fenwick] to win.”

While both teams struggled from the field (Fenwick shot 18-for-51, 35.3 percent; OPRF 18-for-48, 37.5 percent), the Friars enjoyed a significant edge at the free throw line, sinking 11 of 13 attempts while the Huskies converted only 1 of 3 opportunities at the charity stripe.

OPRF didn’t take care of the basketball very well either, with 16 turnovers and three assists. Conversely, the Friars had nine assists and seven turnovers despite numerous defensive looks from OPRF. The Huskies applied full court pressure, man-to-man defense and a 1-3-1 zone at the Friars.

With the first annual John Malone Thanksgiving Tournament title and a win over OPRF, the Friars are off to a 5-0 start.

“If we execute what we’re doing, we are ok,” Malnati said. “When we start freelancing, we are not a very good basketball team. [And we are young, so it’s going to take the kids some time to understand if they just do their job, we’ll be ok.

“[OPRF] got us pretty good in the summer so I think that was in the back of our guys’ minds a little bit. I like our team.”

Fenwick hosts Bishop McNamara on Tues., Dec. 9 and then hits the road to face Seton on Fri., Dec. 12. Both games start at 7 p.m.

OPRF had two upcoming road games, at Proviso West (Fri., Dec. 12, 6 p.m.) and at Schaumburg (Sat., Dec. 13, 6 p.m.).

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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...