The talent of Oak Park and River Forest seniors Jared Scott and Cam Gross is evident. Their leadership and toughness, however, have been major factors in fueling the Huskies’ inspired run in the Class 4A playoffs.
Led by Scott and Gross, OPRF stunned Class 4A defending state champion Curie 46-43 in overtime in the semifinals of the Proviso East Sectional on Tuesday, March 7 in Maywood.
“Once again, Cam and Jared put us on their backs at the end of regulation and in overtime,” OPRF coach Matt Maloney said. “They made huge plays and their temperament and confidence influenced the rest of our squad.”
With the Huskies clinging to a 40-39 lead and less than two minutes remaining in overtime, Gross dove for a loose ball, gained possession and called timeout for OPRF. Although that play won’t show up in the box score, it perfectly represented the Huskies’ postseason grit.
Curie’s Elijah Joiner and OPRF junior guard Isaiah Fuller traded baskets to make the score 42-41 in favor of the Huskies with 40 seconds left in overtime.
Scott took over from there with a huge steal and bucket to give OPRF a 44-41 lead with eight seconds to go.
To avoid a game-tying 3-pointer by Curie, the Huskies fouled senior Allante Pickens who calmly made a pair of free throws to put the score at 44-43.
With two seconds left, Scott responded by making two free throws to secure the Huskies’ unforgettable victory.
“We kept talking in our huddles about having been in situations like this before and the reason for loading up our schedule was for moments like this game,” Maloney said. “The grit and sheer will that our young men exuded will be remembered for years to come. After a few difficult moments at the end of regulation, our guys could have folded. Instead, they rallied together and brought home the biggest Husky victory in years.”
OPRF wouldn’t have been in position to pull off the upset without a tremendous comeback effort. Trailing the Condors 21-14 at halftime, the Huskies outscored Curie 14-6 in the third quarter to grab a 28-27 advantage.
In the third quarter, Pickens drained a trey for Curie to go up 27-22 with 3:52 left in the quarter. Scott quickly responded on the ensuing possession with a layup in the post. OPRF senior guard Kelton Pickett followed that up with another bucket at the rim to whittle the Condors’ lead to 27-26.
With OPRF causing turnovers via their “Huskie Havoc” defense, Fuller dropped a dime to Gross for a go-ahead layup, 28-27 with 17.3 seconds left in the third.
Pickens scored the Condors’ six points (pair of 3-pointers) in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter provided even more drama as the teams battled back and forth for the sectional championship.
With 2:34 left in regulation, Pickett buried a triple to put the Huskies up 32-30. Gross added a bucket and 1, extending the lead to 35-30 at the two-minute mark. After the Condors made a 3-pointer, OPRF handled heavy defensive pressure to find Phil Saleh wide open for a layup and 37-33 lead with 38 seconds left.
The final seconds of the fourth quarter saw multiple lead changes with both teams having a viable shot at victory.
Pickens made a 3-pointer to cut the OPRF lead to 37-36. After Scott missed a free throw, Curie star Elijah Joiner, who will play college basketball at Tulsa next season, seemingly sucked the life out of OPRF with a dagger three to put the Condors ahead 39-37 with 13 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
With the Huskies’ season on the line, Gross threw up desperation shot that not only was good but drew a foul. With the score knotted at 39-39, Gross missed the go-ahead free throw attempt.
On the free throw miss, the Huskies were called for a controversial loose ball foul which put Curie at the line for a 1 and 1 with a chance to seal the deal. Like Gross, Terry Smith Jr. missed his free throw for a chance to win the game.
At the end of the 4th, the game was all tied up at 39 heading to overtime.
Huskies’ balance beats Condors
While the first half didn’t provide comparable drama, it was intense and entertaining nonetheless. With both teams playing great defense, OPRF held a 10-9 advantage after one quarter. The Condors found their footing in the second quarter, outscoring OPRF by eight points to build a 21-14 halftime advantage.
OPRF opened the game looking very much like a team riding the momentum of a 10-game winning streak. Despite full court pressure with a 1-2-2 zone from Curie, the Huskies showed poised and moved the ball effectively against the Condors’ considerable length and athleticism. Pickett, Scott, Fuller and Phil Saleh all scored for OPRF which held a 10-9 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The pace picked up in the second quarter and the crowd became more vocal as Curie junior Demarco Graham made a 3-poiner to put the Condors up 12-10. While OPRF more than held its own on the defensive glass, the Huskies missed several layups and committed multiple turnovers.
Juniors Malachi Ross and Fuller scored a bucket each to account for the Huskies’ few points in the second quarter. Curie senior Dennis Handy nailed a 3-pointer towards end of the quarter as the Condors led 21-14 at halftime.
Offensively, OPRF turned in a balanced performance with Fuller and Gross scoring 10 points apiece. Pickett had nine points and Scott finished with eight points. Phil Saleh chipped in five points. Junior forward Malachi Ross also played very well with his customary hustle, defense and rebounding.
“Our balance on both sides of the ball was a major key to victory,” Maloney said. “While Jared, Cam and Ike have been our leading scorers this year, the contributions from Kelton Pickett, Malachi Ross and Phil Saleh helped propel us to the win. Most importantly, they have all bought into to each other and our philosophy.”
OPRF (24-6) faces the winner of Whitney Young vs. Kenwood in the Proviso East Sectional final on Friday, March 10 at 7 p.m. in Maywood.