Fenwick sophomore Bryce Hopkins is fairly well known around the AAU basketball circuit and college basketball recruiters. The 6-foot-5, 200-pound sophomore introduced himself Friday night to Oak Park by scoring the game-winning basket in the Friars’ 66-65 overtime win against Oak Park and River Forest.
In the marquee matchup of the Chicago Elite Classic’s opening night, Hopkins recorded a double-double of 30 points and 13 rebounds against the Huskies at Wintrust Arena in Chicago.
“My mindset was to keep on fighting,” Hopkins said. “Last year, we lost to them for the first time in six years. We had to remember that and keep on fighting. I’m going to remember this and keep on fighting so that I could do this again.”
OPRF led 17-13 after one quarter and 33-31 at the half on senior guard Dashon Enoch’s buzzer-beating jumper. In the first three minutes of the third quarter, Fenwick went scoreless but the Huskies couldn’t fully capitalize as they scored only three points during that time.
Then, Solomon Oraegbu happened. The savvy senior guard took over for the Friars, scoring nine points in a row as Fenwick used an 11-0 run to take an eventual 47-40 lead at the end of the third quarter. In addition to Oraegbu’s scoring burst, the Friars forced seven turnovers in the quarter to help their cause.
“I loved how our guys battled back,” Fenwick coach Staunton Peck said. “Solomon went out with cramps and Lucas (Kolovitz) fouled out. It was like ‘next man up.’ Everyone contributed and we never gave up. We lost seven players from last year so this is basically a brand new team.”
Early in the fourth quarter, Enoch left the game with an apparent injury and did not return. The situation looked bleak for the Huskies as Fenwick led 58-50 with about two minutes left in regulation.
But then, seniors Anthony Roberts and Chase Robinson put OPRF on their backs as each scored nine points in the fourth quarter and spearheaded an 8-1 spurt to draw the Huskies within one at 59-58. With about one minute to go, Hopkins drove the length of the floor and dunked while he was fouled. The free throw gave Fenwick a 62-58 lead, but Roberts’ basket then two free throws tied the game at 62.
After Hopkins missed a shot in the closing seconds, OPRF quickly drove down the floor. Robinson got a good look as time expired, but the shot went in and out to send the game into overtime.
Roberts converted a three-point play 43 seconds into overtime to give the Huskies a 65-62 lead, but those points would be OPRF’s last. With less than one minute to go in OT, Hopkins stole the ball and scored to draw Fenwick within one at 65-64.
OPRF turned over the ball on the next possession, giving the Friars a chance to regain the lead; however, Hopkins missed a shot with 30 seconds left. Shortly after OPRF secured the rebound, the officials called a ten-second violation on the Huskies for failing to advance the ball past the half-court line in time. What’s notable about the turnover is OPRF coach Matt Maloney called for a timeout several times well before the violation was called but to no avail as the Huskies lost possession of the ball with 17 seconds remaining in overtime.
Fenwick cashed in courtesy of Hopkins. He caught a tricky bounce pass from Ryan Planek beneath the basket in the closing seconds with three OPRF defenders surrounding him. He proceeded to patiently work his way through the triple team to sink the decisive layup as the buzzer sounded, sending Fenwick fans into euphoria.
“It was great,” Hopkins said about the atmosphere. “I didn’t play last year because we had so much talent. This was crazy; it was all new to me.”
Entering the game as an underdog, the Friars (4-1, 1-0 Chicago Catholic League) defeated the Huskies for the sixth time in the last seven meetings. More importantly, the Friars served noticed they aren’t to be underestimated by any opponent.
“It gives us a lot of confidence,” Hopkins said. “We lost a lot of players. D.J. (Steward) and Damari (Nixon) transferred. Everyone is underestimating us. We’ve got to play with a chip on our shoulder.”
As a first-year varsity head coach, Peck is well aware of the OPRF-Fenwick rivalry
“Huge win. We look forward to this game every year, the whole town looks forward to it,” said Peck, who previously served as the Friars’ top assistant for Rick Malnati. “Our guys come from all over the (Chicago area) and don’t realize the rivalry until they get to varsity. We circle this game every year.”
Oraegbu finished with 17 points and five rebounds. Sean Walsh added nine points off the bench for the Friars.
For OPRF (4-2, 1-0 West Suburban Silver), Roberts led the way with 17 points and seven rebounds. Robinson added 16 points, six boards and four assists. Enoch (10 points), Charlie Hoehne (7 rebounds, 3 blocks), and Isaiah Barnes (6 rebounds) also made positive contributions for the Huskies.
“We had great momentum to start the game and heading into half,” Maloney said. “However, when we came out in the third, we did not have the same energy and intensity that we started the game with.
“I continue to be inspired by our relentless fighting when down in big games,” he added. “While we were unable to pull off the win, we did against St. Rita and had opportunities to win the game on Friday evening after closing a seven-point deficit in the final 1:30 in regulation. If we are able to get that same effort and energy throughout the game moving forward, we will be a tough team to reckon with.”
Free throw shooting loomed large in the outcome. While Fenwick made 16 of 20 from the line, OPRF went 22-for-35 (63 percent).
Although the Huskies have dropped a pair of games to area rivals Fenwick and Riverside-Brookfield the outlook remains extremely bright. OPRF is the favorite to win its conference championship, show well at the prestigious Pontiac Holiday Tournament, and be a very dangerous squad come playoff time.
“We have employed the journey as a marathon and not a sprint,” Maloney said. “We have been forced to play many styles early without the necessary preparation and have performed admirably. Now, we will have time to assess our mistakes, build on our strengths and continue to implement new offensive and defensive sets that will enhance our performance moving forward.”
Peck and the young Friars will enjoy this significant victory. Peck believes the experience could pay dividends in March when the state tournament begins.
“Our sectional is one of the hardest in the state,” he said. “We’ve got athletic, lengthy teams like Curie, Proviso East and Whitney Young. They deny you with their pressure on the floor.
“OPRF is similar in that they have a lot of good athletes and play great defense. This experience is good for our team because we’re young and inexperienced. (But) my expectation is that we’re good enough to win these games.”
Fenwick consolidated its win against OPRF by beating Providence 56-38 on Dec. 1. Oraegbu (17 points), Hopkins (13 points) and Kolovitz (9 points) powered the Friars past the Celtics.