By James Kay
OPRF boys basketball participated in one of the most talent-laden tournaments in the state when it headed to Pontiac for the annual Pontiac Holiday Tournament. The Huskies dueled with Plainfield North, Bloom, Warren Township and Simeon high schools and finished in sixth place.
OPRF's Isaiah Barnes averaged 20.3 PPG while his teammate Josh Smith averaged 19.8 PPG.
While it didn't place as high as it hoped, the team gained meaningful big-moment experience—something the youth on this squad lacked before Pontiac.
"I think we have shown flashes of what we could be," said OPRF coach Matt Maloney. "With our inexperience, I really believe this tournament is going to give us some fuel going into the second half and be a coming of age experience for a lot of our players."
Here is a day-by-day overview about what went down at the tournament.
Day one: Huskies stifle Plainfield North's comeback
After allowing 31 points in the first three quarters against Plainfield North High School, the Huskies surrendered 32 points in the fourth quarter and lost their 14-point lead.
They avoided the upset after Justin Cross hit converted a three-point play with 34 seconds left to put OPRF up by one. Rashad Trice followed Cross' 3-point play with a layup with 13.4 seconds left to secure the victory.
Josh Smith led the Huskies with 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. Cross brought his consistent play to Pontiac and provided his team with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 2 steals. Isaiah Barnes had 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting.
"We lost our composure a little bit," said Smith on a phone call with Wednesday Journal on Dec. 26. "A win is a win, but we can't put ourselves in a situation like that again. We can't come out like we did in the fourth quarter when we face Bloom tomorrow or else we aren't going to be in the game. We made some key plays at the end but we should have never lost that lead."
Day two: Huskies fall to Bloom
Riding a four-game win streak heading into the second round of the tournament, OPRF held a 15-13 lead after the first quarter against No. 1 seeded Bloom High School. However, the Huskies couldn't build off their first quarter efforts and ended up surrendering their lead and 51 points in the second half.
OPRF's Josh Smith racked up 16 points (4-of-15 from the field) while his teammate Isaiah Barnes went for 15 points (4-of-10). Bloom's Dante Maddox Jr. had himself a day with 30 points and 6 rebounds. Three other Bloom players scored in double-figures.
This was the second year in a row that the Huskies lost to Bloom in the second round of the Pontiac tournament.
Day three: Huskies split double-header
The Huskies journey for sixth place started at 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 28 versus Warren Township when they took down the Blue Devils 63-53. After scoring only two points in the first quarter, OPRF outscored Warren Township 61-40 the rest of the way.
Smith had 25 points (9-of-14 shooting) and grabbed 4 rebounds. Cross put up 7 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists while Barnes had 12 points (4-of-12), 3 rebounds, and 3 assists.
OPRF followed their morning matchup against Warren Township with an evening game against Simeon. Down 20, the Huskies were able to erase Simeon's lead to three with less than a minute left before losing 80-74.
Barnes went for 27 points (7-of-20 shooting) and Smith had 16 points (5-of-19).
"Watching the growth of Isaiah Barnes was truly tremendous," said Maloney. "[Against Simeon], he had such an unbelievable performance against Ahmad Bynum, who is committed to DePaul, and there were times where he put us on his back and carried us offensively."
Barnes picked up on what Simeon was trying to throw at him and took advantage of the mismatches.
"I was able to get to the rim any time I wanted," said Barnes who went 10 of 11 at the free throw line. "Coach Maloney realized that and he kept running a 1-4 low so I was driving and kicking and driving and getting fouled. Everything was just flowing for me and we found ourselves back in the game."
The Huskies return to action in 2020 against Glenbard West on Jan. 10 at home. Heading into the new year, OPRF is still making small adjustments and trying to find consistency through all 32 minutes of the game.
However, Barnes takes the long view with how this younger team will look come playoff time.
"The losses we took are all lessons," said Barnes on a phone call with Wednesday Journal on Dec. 28. "The season goes by fast but it is only December. Coach [Maloney] keeps telling us that he loves how we never quit and how we will look like a different team in February and March when it really matters."
Answer Book 2019
To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2019 Answer Book, please click here.
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