The Oak Park and River Forest High School boys basketball team used a 12-0 third-quarter run to pull away from crosstown rival Fenwick for a 66-52 victory in the Chicago Elite Classic at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Credit Union One Arena on Dec. 3.
“It means a lot,” said OPRF senior forward Justin Mullins. “They’d beaten us a lot lately, but we have a new culture now.”
“It’s big for the town,” added OPRF coach Phil Gary. “We’ve been losing to them a lot, but this is a fresh start and a new era. The kids were super pumped early and we missed some wide-open shots, but once we settled in, I thought we were fine.”
Both teams struggled offensively at the start as Fenwick (0-3) led 4-0 midway through the opening quarter. OPRF (3-2) didn’t score until Roscoe Caldwell nailed a three-pointer, and that seemed to loosen up the Huskies as they rallied to take a 12-9 advantage after the first.
OPRF pulled away a bit in the second quarter, outscoring the Friars 17-13 to take a 29-22 halftime lead. But keyed by three consecutive baskets by freshman guard Damion Porter Jr., Fenwick used an 8-0 run to tie the game 32-32 midway through the third quarter.
However, the Huskies immediately countered with a decisive 12-0 spurt which featured back-to-back thunderous dunks by Mullins and Sam Lewis.
“Those dunks changed the game; our crowd went crazy,” said Lewis, who finished with game highs in scoring (21 points) and rebounding (13). “We started rolling.”
“I think that showed a bit of growth on our end,” added Gary. “In the past couple of games, we were shell-shocked when teams made runs at us. But tonight we were calm. Basketball is a game of runs, and when they made their run, we made a big one after that.”
Fenwick coach Tony Young felt his team’s inexperience was an important factor during the key stretch.
“That’s the [lack of] experience with our freshmen and sophomores,” he said. “Our seniors did their job. In his first game back [from football], you could tell Denium [Juette] had been playing for a while. Their pressure sped us up a little bit.”
OPRF led 46-36 after three quarters, and Juette scored nine of his team-high 20 points in the fourth quarter as the Friars attempted to rally, but Mullins negated the effort by pouring in eight of his 20 points.
“Once we started getting a lot of steals, I think that changed the flow of the game,” Mullins said. “We needed that.”
Mullins added 12 rebounds as the Huskies dominated the Friars on the glass, finishing with a 44-32 edge. That helped to offset some ball carelessness by OPRF, which committed 24 turnovers.
Fenwick was also done-in by poor shooting from both three-point range (0-for-10) and the free-throw line (6-of-20).
“That’s unacceptable,” Young said. “That’s what really hurt us.”
While OPRF was enthusiastic about defeating its rival, there’s a good chance it was the last time for the Huskies to play this calendar year. Not long afterwards, the school announced that it was pausing all extracurricular activities — including athletics — through the winter break due to a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases. The school has recorded 17 cases over the past seven days.
In an email sent to parents, OPRF Superintendent Greg Johnson said the school would be in discussions with the Oak Park Health Department over the next two weeks to determine how to proceed.
Meanwhile, Fenwick is scheduled to return to action Dec. 7 at St. Ignatius.
This story has been changed. An earlier version incorrectly stated OPRF had lost nine of the last 10 meetings against Fenwick.