By Marty Farmer
The Fenwick High School boys basketball team never backs down from a challenge. Halfway through this season, the Friars have already faced highly regarded teams like Benet, Class 4A state champion Whitney Young, Oak Park and River Forest, Brother Rice, Class 2A state champion Orr and Bogan. In those six games, Fenwick has a 2-4 record but the four losses have been a combined 16 points.
With a very respectable 11-4 mark, the Friars have already established they are state title contenders again who can play with team in the state. Proof of that reality actually occured in losses to Whitney Young 74-73 at Navy Pier on Nov. 26 and 45-42 against Orr at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament on Dec. 28.
In the latter game, Fenwick senior forward Michael O'Laughlin scored 13 points and eight rebounds and Damari Nixon added 11 points. Sophomore swingman DJ Steward chipped in 10 points and three rebounds. The Friars struggled offensively, making just 14 of 47 field goal attempts (29.8 percent), committed 19 turnovers and lost the rebounding battle 37-24.
For all the problems Orr caused, the Friars led 35-30 on an O'Laughlin layup with 3:13 left in the third quarter. The Spartans responded with a 6-0 spurt to take the lead, 36-35, at the end of the period. In the final three minutes of the fourth quarter, layups by O'Laughlin and Steward and 3-pointer by Nixon kept Fenwick close, however, Orr made 3 of 4 free throws (2 by Chase Adams, 1 by Raekwon Drake) to hold on for the victory.
Adams led Orr with 10 points, followed by nine points apiece from Emanuel O'Neal and Dannie Smith. Drake added seven points and seven rebounds.
Orr won the tournament, defeating Whitney Young 77-62 in the championship game.
Other than Orr, Fenwick had no problems with its other opponents at Proviso West. Steward exploded for 32 points and six rebounds in a 67-56 win against Bogan in the fifth-place game on Dec. 30. O'Laughlin chipped in 10 points and four assists. Fenwick outscored Bogan 12-2 in the first quarter and 20-12 in the fourth quarter to ensure the win.
In earllier rounds, the Friars routed Larkin 68-43 (Dec. 29) and host Proviso West 82-50 (Dec. 27). Against Larkin, Steward had 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists. The Friars controlled the game from the opening tip, building lead of 16-8 after one quarter and 34-19 at halftime. Steward scored 22 points and dished out six assists in the win over Proviso West.
Steward, one of the top sophomores in the country, averaged 20.3 points and 4.5 rebounds in four games at Proviso West. O'Laughlin (12.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg at Proviso West) and Nixon (9.8 ppg) also led Fenwick at the prestigious tournament.
While Steward, O'Laughlin and Nixon led statistically, the Friars' AJ Nixon, Billy Bruce, Lucas Kolovitz, Sam Daniels, Sam Kure and Solomon Oraegbu played well in supporting roles.
Fenwick kicks off 2018 with a conference game on the road, at De La Salle (Sat., Jan 6). Tip off is 7 p.m.
The Friars return home for games against St. Joseph (Jan. 12 at 7 p.m.) and Simeon (Jan. 15 at 4 p.m.).