Oak Park and River Forest High School head basketball coach Matt Maloney’s favorite new vacation spot might be Rockton, Ill.
The Huskies (14-9, 6-3 West Suburban Conference Silver Division) are on a seven-game winning streak and have won eight of nine games overall since competing at Rockton’s Martin Luther King Jr. Basketball Tournament in mid-January.
OPRF remained on its midseason roll with a 50-43 victory against visiting LyonsTownship on Friday, Feb. 5.
Before the game, the Huskies honored seniors Deandre Enoch, Pat Skrine, Connor Fuller, Breshawn Wilkerson, Sam Francis, Ravon Woods and Yumar Allen.
Once the Senior Night festivities were completed, the Huskies were all business on the court.
“Coach told us to play hard because Lyons wanted to beat us since we beat them the first time (47-27 on Dec. 18, 2015),” OPRF junior Cameron Gross said. “It was a good win for us. We’re playing together and talking more on defense.”
Friday’s rematch looked another potential blowout as OPRF raced out to an 18-5 lead with 5:54 remaining in the second quarter. Wilkerson and Woods powered the Huskies’ fast start with five points apiece in the first quarter.
Freshman guard Dashon Enoch scored eight points in the second quarter to help OPRF establish a 28-19 halftime advantage.
“I think we played as a team and started off well with our scoring in the first half,” Dashon Enoch said. “We slowed down a bit in the second half but we executed towards the end of the game.”
Trailing 39-31 at the start of the fourth quarter, LTHS made its move with a six-point spurt to pull within 39-37 with 5:30 left in the game. Noah Niego, who finished with a game-high 16 points for the Lions, made a pair of free throws and freshman guard Tyrese Shines (9 points) had two inside baskets during the mini-run.
The teams battled in the closing minutes with LTHS senior guard Cawone Hester tying the game at 41-all on a layup with 2:45 to go. After OPRF sophomore guard Isaiah Fuller responded with a layup to put the Huskies back up 43-41, Hester, who finished with 11 points, scored another tough basket inside for the second tie of the game at 43-43 with two minutes remaining.
The Huskies converted 5-of-7 free throws and held the Lions scoreless the rest of the way.
“We didn’t turn the ball over in the final four minutes and made smart decisions with the ball,” Maloney said. “I think we kind of got settled in and ran some clock, and we also made some free throws which always helps. It was great to see that kind of finish, especially with our younger guys in the game.”
Gross, Wilkerson and Dashon Enoch led OPRF offensively with 10 points apiece. Gross also pulled down nine rebounds.
On the defensive end, Connor Fuller was outstanding. He held the Lions’ 6-foot-8 star Connor Niego to three points.
“I watched a lot of film (of Niego) and my main focus was just to stop him,” Connor Fuller said. “I felt like if I stop him, they won’t be able to score. I usually just stick the better, bigger guys and make sure they don’t get as many points as they usually score.
“Everybody has bought in now and we all know our roles. There are no excuses. We’ve had plenty of team meetings so now everybody is ready and focused.”
While the performance on the court has improved significantly, the Huskies are dealing with several costly injuries.
Junior forward Jared Scott (knee) and Francis (torn labrum) are out for the season. Scott, who is drawing Division I recruiting interest, is a versatile 6-foot-5 junior and one of the Huskies’ top players while Francis provided toughness and leadership off the bench.
Deandre Enoch is also out due to a concussion but should return to the lineup once he passes the concussion protocols. He’s an excellent defensive player with plenty of varsity experience.
OPRF takes on conference leader Glenbard West Friday, Feb 12. at 7:30 p.m. in Glen Ellyn. The Huskies close out the challenging weekend with a home game against York on Saturday, Feb. 13 at 4 p.m.
“We’ll be facing probably our toughest weekend of the season,” Maloney said. “Glenbard West is a huge test and then we have a quick turnaround game against York.
“We have to think of it as a regional, facing two good teams with completely different styles. Hopefully, we can come up with a couple of wins.”