During pregame introductions of the Lyons Township versus Riverside-Brookfield boys basketball game, the announcer mistakenly identified the Bulldogs’ starting center as 6-foot-6 freshman Mark Smith when in reality it’s 6-foot-8 senior and Division-I prospect Miki Ljuboja.
The host Lions didn’t show the same confusion, rotating in three defenders to hold the dangerous Ljuboja (9 points, 13 rebounds) in relative check en route to a 72-66 win over RB on Saturday.
Nikola Josipovic, Robert Palmer and Matt Mrazek took turns wrestling with the Bulldogs’ marked man in the post before Ljuboja fouled out with 3:13 remaining in the game.
“Our three bigs did a good job negating Miki as much as we could,” Lyons Township coach Tom Sloan said. “It was a great defensive effort. We tried not to give up the space between [Ljuboja] and the basket, along with challenging entry passes into the post and helping with weak-side defense.
“We finally made some shots too, at the other end which we hadn’t been doing enough of in our previous game.”
Offensively, sophomore point guard Harrison Niego and senior swingman Jarryd Heath paced the Lions (2-3) with 18 points apiece, while Chris O’Reilly (13 points, 6 rebounds) and Matt Aikens (10 points) also reached double figures scoring for the balanced Lions.
The Bulldogs had won three of the last four meetings between the nonconference rivals, including a 78-60 victory over LT last year.
“We worked together and brought home a big victory,” Heath said. “It felt great to beat RB because they are a good team and we haven’t had much success so far this season.”
Niego, a burgeoning star who recently visited Indiana on a recruiting trip, turned in a particularly impressive performance.
“My teammates got the ball to me in scoring positions and I was able to put the ball in the hoop a little bit,” Niego said. “I’m here to do whatever it takes to win.”
Up 19-13 after one quarter, Lyons went on an 11-0 run to extend its lead to 30-14 with 2:41 remaining until halftime. O’Reilly and Niego each netted four points during the Lyons’ spurt which ended on a three-pointer by Heath.
Led by their terrific tandem of senior guards Damonta Henry (game-high 21 points) and Eric Loury (13 points), the Bulldogs battled back from a 50-35 deficit after three quarters to pull within 52-46 on a Henry putback bucket midway through the fourth quarter. However, Lyons essentially traded baskets the rest of the way to hold off RB.
Liam Lesniak chipped in 10 points for the Bulldogs, who struggled at the charity stripe making only 10 of 22 free throws.
RB (3-3) cruised to a 73-39 home victory against Fenton on Friday in both teams’ league opener. Ljuboja led the way with 24 points and eight rebounds, Henry contributed 13 points and five boards, and Lesniak netted 10 points.