Given the extremely chilly temperatures that have been present throughout the Chicagoland area lately, it was no surprise that both Oak Park and River Forest and Lyons Township High Schools came out ice-cold at the start of Friday night’s West Suburban Conference Silver Division boys basketball matchup at the OPRF Fieldhouse.
However, both teams warmed up eventually. OPRF picked up the pace against the Lions in the second half en route to a 62-45 win.
“I was a little disappointed with our effort in the first half,” OPRF coach Matt Maloney said. “I didn’t think we executed very well on either side of the ball. But once we got the lead, started sharing the ball and playing together, things opened up. I thought our defensive intensity was better in the second half.
“LT is one of those teams that want to slow us down. I thought they were winning the tempo battle in the first half. We had to speed it up and make them play faster, which I thought we did a good job of in the second half.”
With no school – and subsequently no practices – on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, both teams struggled early. OPRF led 13-11 after a slow-paced opening quarter, but then went on a 10-0 scoring spree early in the second quarter to take a 23-13 lead at the 4:56 mark. The Huskies led 26-21 at halftime.
“Oak Park is very good,” LTHS coach Tom Sloan said. “They have a lot of talented players and real good size and athleticism. We were right there with them in the first half. But they had a couple of big runs that were a big part of the game.
“We gave up too many layups, a few too many offensive rebounds, and we didn’t necessarily get a great shot on every possession. I thought our kids played really hard, but we need to execute better on both ends of the floor.”
OPRF sophomore forwards Isaiah Barnes and Josh Smith played well in the third quarter to give the Huskies a 42-35 lead after three quarters.
“We like what our sophomore class can bring,” Maloney said. “These are obviously valuable minutes moving forward.”
Any hopes the Lions had of a rally were doused at the onset of the fourth quarter as the Huskies went on a 9-0 run, extending the latter’s advantage to 51-35 on the scoreboard. LTHS came no closer than 12 points afterwards.
“We were in a position (at the start of the fourth quarter) where we had to start to come out and pressure,” Sloan said. “Doing that against a team like OPRF is not a good recipe for us. They were able to handle the pressure and score several times. The game got away from us.
“But we did a lot of good things. We have to focus and build upon them as we go through the last few weeks of the season.”
Senior guard Nolan Niego scored a game-high 22 points for the Lions.
“Nolan played very well,” Sloan said. “He plays both ends of the floor and is tough and unselfish. He had his shot going tonight.”
OPRF forward Anthony Roberts continued steady play with a double-double of 19 points and 12 rebounds. Emerging as one of the team’s top players last season, the versatile senior can play positions one through five.
“Anthony has been tremendous,” Maloney said. “He’s our leading scorer and rebounder. He’s averaging three steals a game and does a little bit of everything. He does everything we ask him and doesn’t complain. Anthony is a great all-around talent.”
Avenging a 70-56 loss at LTHS in December motivated Roberts in the rematch.
“We lost to them last time so we had some revenge to dish out,” he said. “We had a talk at halftime about extending the lead. We didn’t want to play into their hands so we just had to come out harder in the second half. We had to switch the tempo.”
Chase Robinson contributed 16 points for OPRF (14-8, 8-1 in West Suburban Silver). Barnes finished with seven points and six rebounds, while Smith scored six points. Unfortunately for OPRF, senior guard Dashon Enoch suffered a hamstring injury on a third-quarter drive to the basket and did not return.
Grant Niego finished with 12 points and five assists and teammate Josh Berry had seven points for LTHS (15-9, 4-5). The Lions missed senior guard Tyrese Shines (ankle injury), one of the best players in conference, against OPRF
While happy with the victory, Maloney knows the Huskies need to sharpen their game to realize their goals. OPRF is vying for its third straight conference championship. The Huskies, who have not won a sectional title since 1976, also believe an extended stay in the postseason is possible.
“We need to work on playing 32 minutes of basketball,” Maloney said. “It’s not just our defensive intensity that was lacking, it was our offensive focus. We ran five or six plays in the first quarter and we weren’t in them. We had two days off (due to school being closed), but we can’t do that if we want to win conference and make a deep run (in the playoffs).”
On Saturday, Feb. 2, visiting Evanston edged the Huskies 79-69. Roberts paced OPRF with 24 points and eight boards. Robinson added 17 points and senior forward Charlie Hoehne 14.
Lance Jones and Jaheim Holden scored 20 and 19 points, respectively, for the Wildkits. Evanston (23-4) responded to a 16-4 fourth-quarter run by OPRF with a strong finish to secure the significant nonconference victory.