Until the last 16 seconds of their 60-56 win over Ridgewood on Friday, Riverside-Brookfield had no answer for the Rebels' prolific scoring star Andy Mazurczak, who riddled the Bulldogs' defense for a career-high 35 points.
But with RB clinging to a 56-54 lead, the Bulldogs' defensive stopper Luke Nortier blocked a Mazurczak foray to the hoop. Nortier followed up his timely rejection with a pair of made free throws to provide RB a sliver of breathing room at 58-54 with 15 seconds left in the game.
"Mazurczak is very hard to defend," Nortier said. "His hesitation move is so good that he got right by me on that last play so I just hoped I could get the ball. I got a good piece of it on the block."
After Mazurczak converted a pair of free throws to pull Ridgewood within 58-56, RB guard Damonta Henry responded with two makes of his own at the charity stripe with two seconds remaining to close the scoring at 60-56 and soon after trigger a frenzied rushing of the court by the Bulldogs' Sixth Man student section to celebrate another conference title.
The victory clinched sole possession of the Metro Suburban Conference championship for the Bulldogs (22-4, 12-0) and an 11th-straight conference title overall. Red-hot RB rolled into the playoffs this week on a 15-game win streak.
Ridgewood (19-7, 10-2) led 16-11 after the first quarter as Mazurczak scored nine points and Pete Mroz added seven points. In fact, the Rebels' two top scorers tallied all of the Rebels' 29 points in the first half, with Mazurczak netting 17 and Mroz scoring 12 to give Ridgewood a 29-27 advantage at the intermission. Mroz finished with 16 points on the night.
The Bulldogs outscored Ridgewood 19-12 in the third quarter to seize a 46-41 edge. Six-foot-7 junior center Miki Ljuboja, who missed a couple of weeks due to a strained Achilles heel injury, triggered the Bulldogs' turnaround with an inspired performance in the paint scoring 10 points in the third quarter. During the height of the Bulldogs' rally, Ljuboja scored seven straight points. Louis Marino added a three-pointer and Eric Loury scored on a layup to close the quarter.
Mazurczak proceeded to give Ridgewood its first and final lead of the second half at 52-51 on a midrange jumper with two minutes left in the game. With his defender fronting him, Ljuboja answered back with an inside hoop and Nortier added a basket to put RB back up at 55-54 in the final minute.
Ljuboja led RB with 20 points and also ripped down eight rebounds, while Henry finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Hanley contributed 10 points and Nortier had eight points and six boards.
RB was set to take on either Little Village or Fenwick on Feb. 28 in the first round of the RB Regional (after deadline). A win in that game would advance the Bulldogs to Friday's regional title game most likely against Crane (7:30 p.m.).