Ryan Jackson isn’t ready to end his stellar Riverside-Brookfield basketball career, while Luke Nortier served notice his varsity run with the Bulldogs might just be starting.
The pair of guards – an established star and a key reserve, respectively – sparked the Bulldogs to a 63-41 win over St. Francis in the Class 3A Nazareth Regional championship game on Friday.
“It feels real good to be going back home to RB,” said Jackson about the Bulldogs’ home sectional semifinal game tonight (Wednesday, March 9 at 7:30 p.m.) against Orr. “I was able to promise coach [Tom McCloskey] that we were going to come back [to the RB Sectional] like last year and it happened again.”
Trailing the Spartans 17-13 after one quarter and then 20-15 midway through the second quarter, Jackson (25 points, 9 rebounds) scored six points during an 8-2 spurt to give RB a 23-22 lead at halftime.
In the second half, “Action” Jackson went back to work, tacking on nine more points coupled with Nortier’s tremendous effort. The 6-foot-3 junior guard, who shot 6-for-7 from the field, scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half as the Bulldogs pulled way from pesky St. Francis. Nortier’s offensive rebound putback and three-pointer along with a Jackson trey capped off a 26-10 run to extend the RB lead to 49-30 with 5:22 left in the game.
“My job is to guard one of the best players on the other team and grab boards,” Nortier said. “I don’t usually look to score but [tonight] I had some opportunities. After halftime, we just wanted to come out hard and control the game.”
The extended playing time for Nortier was partly due to foul trouble for the Bulldogs’ 6-foot-9 center Alex Dziagwa. Despite limited minutes, Dziagwa had 12 points, four rebounds and four blocks. Dziagwa, a shot blocking machine all season, rejected a St. Francis jump shot all the way back to half court late in the fourth quarter.
Ryan Coyle and Michael Scholl each scored 12 points for the Spartans, who upset host Nazareth 43-42 in the regional semifinals.
“St. Francis’ style of play always frustrates us,” McCloskey said. “We like to run and they don’t. We made some big threes and got some rebounds in the second half.”
The Bulldogs (22-5) now return home for a sectional semifinal clash against Orr featuring Illinois recruit Mycheal Henry. Led by Henry (25 points, 11 rebounds, 5 blocks), the Spartans (16-8) defeated Marshall 60-54 in the Marshall Regional title game last week.
If all goes well for the Bulldogs, who upset Farragut earlier in the season proving they can compete with a top flight Public League team, will advance to the sectional championship Friday night (7:30 p.m.) to face either Crane or Wheaton Academy.
“We’re excited but we’re not satisfied.” McCloskey said. “It’s a great feeling to win a regional, but our focus [now] is to get the sectional semifinal win.”
Six-foot-4 senior guard Charlie Morrissey also continued his postseason journey toward a return engagement in the IHSA three-point shooting contest. Morrissey, who tied for third in the state last year, went 12-for-15 from the beyond the arc before Friday’s game to secure safe passage into the next round.
“All the RB fans were here cheering for me,” Morrissey said. “I would have liked to save some for the game, but it was nice.”