The Metro Suburban Conference race is already shaping up as a three-way battle between defending champion Riverside-Brookfield, Ridgewood and Glenbard South. If RB is to capture its 11th-straight conference title this season, the Bulldogs are likely in for a real dogfight as they currently share first place with Ridgewood at 3-0 followed closely by Glenbard South at 4-1.
The Bulldogs (10-4 overall) pulled out a 66-63 win over Glenbard South on Friday in the first meeting between any of the three contenders. The visiting Raiders appeared poised for a huge road victory with an early 14-4 lead, but RB quickly responded with a 10-0 run to close the first quarter knotted at 14-14. Senior guard Luke Nortier calmly canned a pair of three-pointers during the Bulldogs’ rally.
RB outscored the Raiders 20-15 in the second quarter to establish a 34-29 halftime lead. Six-foot-7 junior Miki Ljuboja poured in 14 of his game-high 21 points in the first half as his teammates continually fed the Bulldogs’ star center.
“When we get the ball inside and I score some baskets it draws double and triple teams,” Ljuboja said. “Everything opens up for us and we have very good shooters. Glenbard South is a tough team, but we just had to keep adjusting and play our up-tempo game.”
The Bulldogs extended their advantage to 55-45 after three quarters. Senior Andrew Hanley capped off the scoring for RB in the quarter with a pretty offensive rebound snag and score off Damonta Henry’s three-point attempt.
Trailing 61-51 with 5:15 remaining in the game, the Raiders went on a 6-0 spurt to pull within 61-57 at the three-minute mark. A basket by Ljuboja, coupled with a trio of made free throws – two from Nortier and one from Henry – over the final 30 seconds allowed RB to finally turn away the scrappy Raiders. RB made 25 of 47 shots (53.2 percent), including a stellar 9-for-17 from beyond the three-point arc, but knocked down only 7 of 16 free throws.
Six-foot-6 center Dusko Despot scored 17 points for Glenbard South (8-6).
The Bulldogs played strong defense in the closing minutes, particularly considering Henry, Ljuboja, Eric Loury and Liam Lesniak all had four fouls with Glenbard South in the super bonus at the charity stripe.
“We had to try and not reach in,” Ljuboja said. “We had to play defense without fouling and keep [Glenbard South] off the free-throw line.”
Ljuboja (21 points, 12 rebounds, 5 blocks), Henry (17 points, 4 assists) and Nortier (12 points, 5 rebounds) starred for RB, while Loury and Lesniak turned in another solid effort off the bench. Loury scored seven points and Lesniak had four points, four rebounds and four assists.
“Coming off the bench, Liam and I look to set a defensive tone,” Loury said. “We have to play strong, get the tempo sped up and do our thing. We have to make sure we don’t give other teams the slightest chance of winning our conference.”
The Bulldogs host Fenton on Friday at 7 p.m.