By James Kay
After beating Hinsdale Central on the road and state-ranked Stevenson High School at the Derrick Rose Shootout this past weekend, OPRF's boys basketball team may have turned a corner. Here's how they got back on track:
Huskies upset Stevenson 55-48
OPRF started off slow against Stevenson, in the Shootout at Mt. Carmel High School, Dec. 14, and fell into a 15-2 hole early in the first quarter. But the Huskies clawed their way back and ended up going into halftime with a lead over one of the most talented teams in the nation.
Isaiah Barnes had 17 of his 21 points in the second half and Justin Cross provided 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 blocks.
The team's proclivity for struggling in the opening minutes of games (they have trailed in six of their seven games) has given this young group experience in overcoming adversity.
"You're playing a top-five team in the state in Stevenson where you could easily fold and give up," said head coach Matt Maloney. "I keep saying, 'imagine in January when the inexperience wears off and the younger guys have two months of playing on varsity.' I think we have a chance of being pretty good."
The team only had 10 practices before the start of the season and, according to Maloney, still has more to add to its defensive schemes as the group develops its on-court chemistry. Beating a veteran team in Stevenson with less than a day of preparation shows this team is just getting started.
"This win was huge for us," said Barnes after the win. "We needed this win since we had a slow start and to give Stevenson their first loss is really huge for us."
Huskies outlast Red Devils 51-47
The Huskies never need extra motivation against the Red Devils, but head coach Nick Latorre provided it in the preseason when he told the Chicago Tribune that the conference is up for grabs. Maloney stashed the quote and brought it to the team's attention during last week's practices.
With the Huskies protecting a narrow lead with 2.9 seconds left, Barnes decided to add an exclamation point to the win. OPRF ran an inbound play that freed up Barnes in the fast break. With no one around him, he raced up court and, after the buzzer sounded, slammed home a dunk to shut up the home crowd.
"They were doing a lot of talking the whole game," said Barnes. "They were saying stuff like, 'This is our gym' and 'This is our conference.' In the fast break, I just wanted to silence the noise. It's not up for discussion. We're the team to beat in the conference."
The Huskies started off slow against the Red Devils before settling in midway through the second quarter. With 5:20 left in the half, Barnes flew behind Hinsdale's Ryan Isaacson in the post and poked the ball away. In transition, OPRF's Justin Cross was hacked inside by three Red Devil defenders but got his own rebound before he drew a foul. He made one of two free throws to give the Huskies their first lead of the night.
OPRF went into halftime with a 29-23 lead and came out in the third quarter with a 7-0 run. Hinsdale countered the Huskies with a 12-4 run of its own and tied the game late in the third. Barnes hit an up-and-under layup at the end of the third to give his team a 39-37 lead heading into the fourth.
Both teams locked each other down until the last three minutes. Kyren Gardner found teammate Josh Smith cutting inside for an easy layup at the 2-minute mark to give the Huskies a 45-39 lead.
On the next play, Hinsdale's Zach Northey quickly pushed the ball down the floor and found Charlie Sessa in the left corner. Sessa went around the defense and hit a layup to keep things interesting at 45-41.
On the next three possessions, Hinsdale fouled the Huskies to put OPRF in the bonus. However, the Huskies missed three straight 1-and-1 opportunities and the Red Devils cut the lead to 45-44. Running out of time, Hinsdale fouled Cross with 30.8 seconds left to put the senior on the line. He drained both free throws then put the game away for the Huskies after hitting another pair of free throws on the next possession.
"I don't know how many free throws we missed in a row, but we missed three front ends which is essentially like going 0-6 from the line," said Maloney. "Having [Cross] go up and calmly hitting those was huge since Hinsdale kept coming back."
Barnes and Smith each finished with 14 points while Cross and sophomore guard Demetrius Dortch dominated the Red Devils on the defensive end.
Answer Book 2019
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