By James Kay
After losing two late-game thrillers on back-to-back nights, OPRF's boys basketball team (11-8) is pushing forward with one month to go before the playoffs start.
The Huskies have been hit hard with the injury bug for over a month now and haven't been able to field their full starting lineup since the Pontiac Holiday Tournament.
"We definitely had both of those games in our hands," said OPRF guard Josh Smith. "It just came down to execution. We have to mature in the way we execute. Those were two good teams, and when you play against good teams, energy and effort isn't going to cut it. But I think we are starting to understand that and it's coming. You can see it."
Huskies vs. Hinsdale Central
OPRF hosted Hinsdale Central on Jan. 31 and held the lead for most of the game. However, Hinsdale's Ryan Isaacson tallied nine points in the third quarter (scoring 31 total) and put his team back within one point heading into the fourth quarter.
"Isaacson is a tremendous player," said OPRF head coach Matt Maloney. "We tried throwing 3-4 guys at him and every two minutes switch him on a different guy. The game plan was to deny him the ball. Obviously, we did not do that."
The Huskies beat the Red Devils 51-47 in their first matchup this season on Dec. 12 as senior Justin Cross, who is recovering from a fractured elbow and wrist, held Isaacson to 8 points.
After a quick scoring spurt from the Red Devils, OPRF trailed 57-50 with 2:20 left after Isaacson caught a lob from his teammate, Mac Quast, slammed home a two-handed dunk, and drew a foul (he converted the and one).
The Huskies started their comeback with a putback by Kyren Gardner with two minutes left. OPRF fouled Hinsdale Central on the next possession and the Red Devils missed the front end of their one-and-one opportunity. The Huskies' Isaiah Barnes battled for the rebound and, falling out of bounds, tipped the ball to Smith, who dribbled through traffic and went coast-to-coast to put the Huskies within one possession (57-54).
OPRF fouled the Red Devils' Connor Nelson on the next possession and he also missed the front end of a one-and-one. Barnes grabbed the rebound and dribbled up court. His attempted a three but it went off the side of the rim. However, OPRF's Rashad Trice flew in for the offensive rebound and passed it to his teammate Demetrius Dortch on the wing. With 18 seconds left, Dortch buried a three to tie the game at 57.
Hinsdale Central immediately took the ball up court and missed a shot inside. However, Quast grabbed the rebound and laid the ball in with 4.4 seconds left. After the Huskies called a timeout, Trice threw an inbound pass to Dortch who pushed the ball to the three-point line. Over two defenders, his 3-point attempt just missed as time expired.
Smith finished with 19 points and Barnes added 16.
OPRF almost beats Evanston
Despite the tough loss to the Red Devils, the Huskies bounced back against one of the top teams in the state. OPRF trailed by two with less than a minute left, but the Wildkits escaped the upset with a 54-45 win after late-game fouling put Evanston on the line the rest of the way.
"We competed with a top-two team in the state in a hostile environment and were a few plays away from finishing," said Matt Maloney. "I am very proud of how they competed with not having an extra day to prepare."
OPRF has another back-to-back game set versus Lyons Township High School on Feb. 7 at home at 7:30 before heading to Chicago to play Christ the King High School on Feb. 8. That game starts at 4 p.m.
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