If the Riverside-Brookfield boys basketball team wins its Class 3A playoffs opener tonight (Wednesday, March 3), there’s a good chance regional host Wheaton Academy will be eagerly awaiting the Bulldogs in the championship game.
Riverside-Brookfield (20-5) tuned up for this potentially tricky “road game” by blasting host Brother Rice 82-71 on Feb. 23. Brother Rice, known for its Crusader Crazies student section, held a slim 30-25 halftime lead. The second half was all Bulldogs though, as RB erupted for 57 points to notch a solid non-conference win.
“We knew we were going into a hostile environment,” said RB guard Billy VandeMerkt. “In the second half, we moved the ball well and played as a team.”
Sean McGonagill caught fire in the third quarter, scoring 17 of his 24 points. The performance was highlighted by one particularly torrid shooting stretch of five straight converted treys. Ryan Jackson (22 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists), Watoris Slater (15 points, 6 rebounds) and VandeMerkt (15 points, 6 assists) also contributed for the balanced Bulldogs.
Joe Miller scored 18 points (5-of-7 three-pointers) and Pat Statham added 15 points and eight assists for Brother Rice.
On Saturday, the Bulldogs closed out their regular season with a 73-63 Senior Night victory over St. Laurence. McGonagill netted a career-high 33 points, while Jackson had 15 points and six assists and RB center Terrance Reed tallied nine points and six boards. RB honored its eight-player senior class of Christian Hitt, Matt Meindl, Mike Hansa, Mark McDonagh, Nick Arias, VandeMerkt, McGonagill and Reed for their contributions to the program.
Riverside-Brookfield enjoyed another terrific regular season by winning the Bill VandeMerkt Thanksgiving Tournament and Metro Suburban Conference championships, along with a runner-up showing at the prestigious Jack Tosh Holiday Classic. The Bulldogs, who finished 9-1 in the Metro Suburban this year, have won nine straight conference titles.
In terms of personal milestones, RB coach Tom McCloskey passed 200 wins and McGonagill 1,000 points this season at RB.
The Bulldogs now turn their attention to the Class 3A playoffs which open this week. Sectional Host RB is the No. 5 seed in a stacked sectional featuring public league threats Marshall and North Lawndale, seeded No. 1 and No. 3 respectively. Marshall recently lost to Morgan Park and Louisville-bound Wayne Blackshear in the city tournament finals, while North Lawndale boasts stars Paul Bunch and Jermaine Wingfield. No. 2 St. Joseph, No. 4 Wheaton Academy, No. 5 RB and talented wildcards like Crane and Orr are also viable threats to win the RB Sectional.
“Coach [Tom McCloskey] has been preaching to us about taking it one game at a time in the playoffs,” VandeMerkt said. “For me, Sean and all the seniors, we really want to make the most of this opportunity. We can’t let anybody sneak up on us like Manley and bite us in the butt.”
Riverside-Brookfield likely takes on Manley tonight at Wheaton Academy (7:30 p.m.).