O’Brien: Jacob Keller steps up, Fenwick holds off Proviso East

SHARE O’Brien: Jacob Keller steps up, Fenwick holds off Proviso East

Fenwick’s DJ Steward (21) goes to the basket against Proviso East. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

It’s been a wild few months for Fenwick’s Jacob Keller. The senior found himself in the midst of a national news story at the end of the football season. He was the quarterback that threw the controversial pass that eventually led to Fenwick suing the IHSA over the playoff loss to Plainfield North.

“He came out of football as the guy that made the pass,” Fenwick coach Rick Malnati said. “The guy that supposedly didn’t know what he was doing. That’s a lot of pressure on a kid. It was a crazy end of the football season and he was the focal point.”

Keller jumped right in to basketball, where he is also the leader of the team. Saturday in Oak Park, with his sick teammates having bad games, the fate of the Friars fell on his shoulders. Keller delivered. The uncommitted senior had 26 points and eight rebounds to help No. 17 Fenwick hold on to beat Proviso East 69-62.

“Most games aren’t like that, usually everyone is filling up the stat sheet,” Keller said. “Tonight we were just kinda off. Normally everybody steps up. Jamal [Nixon] is pretty sick so he’s battling that and he got in foul trouble early. DJ [Steward] has been playing really well, he’s been picking it up.”

Nixon was held to just five points and three rebounds. He was one of several players battling the flu. The outbreak is so severe that St. Charles North and St. Charles East canceled their scheduled game on Saturday.

“[Nixon] was sicker than a dog, but he played through it,” Malnati said.

Fenwick (12-3) led by 15 in the third quarter and by nine at the start of the fourth quarter, but the wheels came off in the final few minutes. Proviso East (4-8) had several chances to tie the game in the final three minutes, but couldn’t quite manage it.

“Our guys didn’t do their jobs today,” Malnati said. “Whatever their roles are, they didn’t do it.”

The Friars were without 6-5 junior Mike O’Laughlin, which hurt on the boards. He’s also a football player, and was out of town at a football event.

The Friars shot 5-for-6 from the free-throw line in the final 41 seconds to seal the win.

Steward, who may be the area’s best freshman, scored 13 points. He’s been a consistent offensive contributor for Fenwick all season.

“He’s the most poised kid on the team really,” Malnati said. “Keller and Nixon have been through the wars, but DJ is really composed. He struggles a little on the defensive end. But he rebounds well, he has long arms.”

The Pirates are clearly still figuring things out, but they can take some encouragement from the final quarter. They forced Fenwick into multiple turnovers and dominated the boards to get back into the game against one of the area’s best teams.

Senior Tyler Chisom led Proviso East with 21 points and six rebounds. Quinlan Bennett added 15 points and five boards.

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