By James Kay
Things never quite clicked for the Huskies this season.
Plagued by injuries and on-court inconsistency, the 2019-20 campaign for the Oak Park and River Forest High School boys basketball team ended in the first round of the IHSA Class 3A regionals with a 48-40 loss at Lane Tech (15-15) on March 4.
"It was overall an up-and-down season," said senior Justin Cross. "We came together in the second half of the season and ended on a good note, but we came up short."
Heading into the game, the team was without Isaiah Barnes and the 18 points per game that he was averaging this season. Barnes hurt his knee versus Morton on Feb. 25. Out of the gate, the Indians honed in on OPRF's other leading scorer, Josh Smith, helping stunt the Huskies' offense throughout the night.
However, despite their offensive struggles, the Huskies shut down Lane Tech in the first half and only trailed 23-21 heading into halftime. Cross and senior Kyren Gardner eliminated the Indians' chances inside to keep their team in striking distance.
"[Justin] is so instinctive on the defensive side of the ball," said OPRF coach Matt Maloney. "He covers up for a lot of errors, gets his hands on so many balls and is a tremendous shot blocker. He does so many things that the average fan doesn't notice."
Both teams came out slow in the second half until 4:30 seconds left in the third, when Lane Tech went on a 10-1 run. The Huskies struggled with Lane Tech's physicality and shot 30 percent from the field in the third quarter.
Lane Tech's Louis Perona buried a three from the wing as time expired to give his team a 39-28 lead. The Huskies couldn't overcome the momentum Lane Tech had after that shot despite a late fourth-quarter push, ending the team's season.
Demetrius Dortch and Gardner both had 14 points, while Smith finished with eight.
Throughout the week in practice, Maloney blasted music to try to ready his team for the playoff atmosphere. Still, OPRF had one of its worst shooting nights of the season and shot under 30 percent from the free throw line versus the Indians. According to Maloney, their season average from the free throw line hovered around 65 percent.
"You're playing on the road in a hostile environment and they are going to have their student section there," said Maloney. "This is a physical team on their home floor and you have to expect to not hear a whistle. There were times where there was contact and there was no whistle, but we have to realize that that's how the game is going to be called early."
OPRF has reason for optimism going into next season. Smith and Barnes (both averaged 18 point per game this season) will be seniors next fall, and the team has key contributors returning in Dortch, Rashad Trice, Anthony Coleman and Eric Locke.
Steph Curry shouts out Trice
On Feb. 20-21, Trice competed against 75 high school prospects at an Underrated Tour event in Chicago and was one of eight players selected to participate in the Underrated championship in the Bay Area.
Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry launched the tour that made stops in Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington D.C. and Dallas.
Curry put up a video on his Twitter and Instagram accounts shouting out the players from the Chicago tour who will go to Oakland from April 3-5 to play against the other high school prospects. Along with the other players from the Chicago event, A picture of Trice laying the ball in was shown in the video.
"I was on the bus asleep and somebody woke me up," said Trice. "[The video] was on Steph Curry's Instagram. I kind of freaked out and I don't have the words to describe the emotions I had going through my head. It was crazy."
Answer Book 2019
To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2019 Answer Book, please click here.
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