By James Kay
Starting off the second half of the season versus Glenbard West High School, OPRF hadn't played at home since its preseason scrimmage during Huskiepalooza.
The Huskies made the most of it, welcoming the new year in the field house with major conference implications riding on the outcome of their game against the Hilltoppers. Tied with York for first place in the West Suburban Silver, OPRF pulled out a 64-62 win despite a late comeback by Glenbard West.
The Huskies' Isaiah Barnes poured in 26 points while teammate Josh Smith tallied 18 points. The Hilltoppers' Braden Huff scored 26 points (13 in the second half).
"We should not be satisfied with how we ended that game," said OPRF head coach Matt Maloney. "I told them, 'We need to realize that execution [late in the game] is not acceptable.' We can't keep saying we are young and inexperienced because they were too. In the second half, the energy, effort and execution has to be there."
After being down 38-31 heading into the half, the Huskies came out of the locker room with new life and took the lead back with 52 seconds left in the third quarter. Smith found teammate Rashad Trice a few feet from the basket and Trice hit a floater over the defense. Moments later, Trice was fouled with 2.3 second left and made both of his free throws to give the Huskies a 47-46 lead heading into the final quarter.
In the opening minutes of the fourth, it seemed like the Huskies were going to run away with the game. With 4:20 left, sophomore Demetrius Dortch forced Glenbard West into a missed layup attempt. Smith grabbed the rebound and went coast-to-coast to give OPRF a 56-51 lead. Barnes, Smith and Anthony Coleman all scored layups on the next three possessions to give the Huskies a 62-53 advantage with 2:40 left in regulation.
However, the Huskies stepped off the gas pedal in the closing minutes and Glenbard West started its comeback with a three from Caden Pierce with 2:21 left. OPRF took and missed a three a few seconds into its next offensive posseson and Huff ended up getting fouled and went to the free throw line. He made both attempts to trim OPRF's lead to 62-58. The Huskies drew a foul with 1:16 left but missed the front end of their one-and-one opportunity. Glenbard West's Diallo Phillips was fouled on the next possession and made both free throws to put the Hilltoppers in striking distance at 62-60.
Smith ended the Huskies' scoring drought when he drove into the lane and found Trice underneath the basket for a lay-in to extend the lead to 64-60 with 52 seconds left. Glenbard West drove up the court and converted a quick layup with 41.6 seconds remaining (64-62).
On the next play, Barnes took the ball up, used a behind-the-back crossover to drop his defender to the ground, and drove into the lane. But his floater fell short and the Hilltoppers snagged the rebound, dribbled to midcourt, and called a timeout with 23.5 seconds left. With less than 10 seconds remaining, Glenbard West whipped the ball around the key and found Pierce wide open on the perimeter. He missed the 3-point attempt, and Barnes pulled down the rebound before being fouled with eight seconds on the clock.
However, he missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Glenbard West pushed the ball up with one last chance to pull off the comeback. Pierce found Huff on the wing, but the sophomore missed a clean look from beyond the arc that would have won the game.
Cross and Gardner out with injuries
Late in the first quarter, senior Justin Cross landed on his shooting hand and didn't return the rest of the game. In a phone interview on Jan. 12, Maloney said the initial X-rays came back showing Cross suffered a small fracture but that he is in "good spirits" despite this being the second year in a row he has sustained a major injury (he tore his meniscus last season). Cross will see a specialist soon to get a firm timetable on his return.
His teammate Kyren Gardner, also a starter, suffered a non-basketball injury after the team's games at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament over winter break. He also does not have a date set for his return to the floor.
Cross has been the defensive anchor in the front court for the Huskies while Gardner has provided valuable minutes as an efficient, undersized big. While Maloney is still mulling what his lineup will look like without the two seniors, Rashad Trice started in place of Gardner and will likely replace Gardner's minutes.
"There was a lot of learning during the film session [Jan. 11] before the JV game," said Maloney. "We have a lot of skilled guys, but they haven't been in these types of games that have that type of pressure. For us to come out with a win against Glenbard West and to have a lot to watch and learn from is valuable for our younger guys moving forward."
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