The new year has been downright rude to the Oak Park basketball team.
The Northmen lost their first two games coming out of the holiday break. The news got worse on Thursday, when junior forward Ryan Jackson, the team’s leading scorer, suffered a broken thumb in practice.
It’ll take a team effort to replace that production, and Oak Park produced one in Friday’s 59-51 home victory over William Chrisman.
Justin Walker scored 21, and Mitch Thompson had 18 points. It was fitting that the duo hooked up for the most crucial basket of the game.
Oak Park, 5-6, led by 10 with 3:15 to play, but Chrisman had the deficit whittled to two just two minutes later. Chrisman’s Chris Horn rebounded a missed free throw and turned the opportunity into a three-point play.
Before things got dicey, Oak Park got the ball in with relative ease. Walker fielded a cross-court pass that was nearly intercepted, streaked up the left side and found Thompson cutting to the rim for the layup that finally put the game away.
“It felt like I won the lottery because I knew it put the game away,” Walker said.
The Northmen got a bit nervous down the stretch, and it showed.
“The reason things got away from us was crucial turnovers. I had a terrible turnover when I threw it over the top,” Walker said. “But we came back and hit crucial free throws. We made good layups. He held the ball and finished strong.”
Chrisman, 6-7, got 17 points from Chris Horn and 10 from Randall Horn. The Bears fought an uphill battle after briefly leading 4-2 early in the first quarter, and never quite got over the hump.
“We kind of got away from what our game plan was, and honestly I think the game changed in the first quarter,” Chrisman coach Chad Wright said. “They were in foul trouble and we decided to shoot threes instead of getting the ball to the basket.”
Oak Park forced 20 turnovers with its smaller lineup, and will need to continue to create that kind of havoc for the rest of the season.
“Justin and Mitch both played the best games they played all year. We’re a guard-oriented team and we just lost Ryan Jackson, so we’re going to lean on those guys more the rest of the way,” Oak Park coach Ryan Nichols said. “We felt like our backs were against the wall a little bit. We needed a good game and the kids came out and responded.”