BOYS BASKETBALL: Oak Park jacks up the pressure to stymie shorthanded Clarkston

| February 16, 2022 | Comments (0)




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CLARKSTON — Relentless pressure defense and crashing the boards has become Oak Park’s bread and butter on the court this season.

Those ingredients certainly worked Tuesday night at Clarkston.

The Knights collected 13 team steals, forced Clarkston into an uncharacteristic 22 turnovers, held a 30-25 edge in rebounding and also limited the host Wolves to only 34 shot attempts from the floor. Oak Park also held Clarkston to only a combined 10 points over the middle two quarters in a resounding 57-43 OAA Red Division victory over the Wolves.

“That’s been our strength all season. It’s what we do (well),” noted Oak Park coach Durand Shepherd. “We play that way against everybody, always putting pressure on (the opposition) and we really go hard for rebounds. I thought we did a great job getting offensive rebounds and second chances and we forced a lot of turnovers.”

Oak Park (12-3, 6-2) finished 37.3 percent from the floor (22-for-59), 61.2 percent from the foul line (11-for-18) and just 13.4 percent from outside the three-point arc (2-for-15). The Knights compensated with its relentless pressure, including forcing Clarkston to turn the ball over nine times over a stretch of 10 possessions in the meat of the second quarter.

Oak Park turned a 14-12 deficit entering the second quarter to a 24-18 lead at the half. The Knights broke the game open by forcing six more turnovers in the third quarter where they went on a sizzling 19-6 run for a 43-24 advantage entering the fourth frame.

Oak Park led by as many as 22 points at 46-24 following a steal and layup by sophomore forward Bishop James. Clarkston (9-6, 3-4) was never able to trim it back down to single digits.

Senior guard Ashton Henderson led a balanced effort for Oak Park with 14 points, six steals and five assists. Senior 6-foot-5 forward Derald Blackman added 13 points and a game-high 13 rebounds, and freshman guard Robert Smith had nine points and four assists for the Knights.

The Wolves were missing two starters, including All-State senior point guard Keegan Wasilk and senior guard Nathan Steinman, plus sophomore guard Desman Stephens has been out all season. Senior guard Caleb Woodbury just returned Tuesday and played limited minutes.

The absence in the backcourt was evident, as the season-high 22 turnovers and unnatural flow on the offense more than hurt the Wolves. Clarkston, which led 11-5 early on the strength of a trio of  three-pointers, was out of sync for long stretches of the game. The Wolves did not hit another three-point after the 4:44 mark of the first stanza.

“We were missing some guys and it showed. But we have been forced to play a lot of guys that might not have played as much, especially tonight because of the injuries and everything else — kind of the next man up,”   Clarkston coach Tim Wasilk. “I’m proud of this group because for a lot of them they never really played in an atmosphere like this or played this many minutes. They gained some valuable experience even though we didn’t win and were down by double figures for most of the second half. They will learn from all of this.”

Senior guard Zach Austin led Clarkston with a game-high 17 points and eight rebounds. Freshman guard John Kaul added six points, while 6-foot-10 sophomore center Zack Scherler contributed six points, six rebounds and four blocked shots for the Wolves.

Clarkston finished the night 38.3 percent from the floor (13-for-34), 77.8 percent from the foul line (14-for-18) and only 20 percent from outside the arc (3-for-15).

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