Although the Riverside-Brookfield boys basketball team didn’t win the Tosh Holiday Classic over the break, head coach Tom McCloskey likely left the tournament feeling as giddy as a kid opening presents on Christmas morning.
After a sluggish 3-3 start the Bulldogs have caught fire, winning 9 of 10 games highlighted by a 4-1 record and strong third-place showing at the Tosh Holiday Classic hosted by York.
In the third-place game, RB rolled to a surprisingly comfortable 78-67 win over highly regarded Waubonsie Valley, which features Santa Clara recruit Jared Brownridge. Miki Ljuboja scored 20 of his career-high 33 points before halftime, setting the tone for the Bulldogs, while Damonta Henry (13 points, 7 assists), Jack VandeMerkt (12 points, 6 rebounds) and Eric Loury (9 points, 7 assists) also turned in stellar all-around performances.
“They played probably the best four quarters I’ve seen them play this year,” McCloskey said. “Miki had a great game and I thought all five of our starters brought their ‘A’ games. It’s a big win for us and a momentum-builder.”
The Bulldogs also showed their mettle, responding beautifully after a frustrating 44-38 overtime loss to Conant, which deliberately likes to play at a slow tempo. Tied at 31-all after regulation, the Cougars outscored RB 13-7 in overtime to squash the Bulldogs’ Tosh title aspirations. Ljuboja had 16 points and nine rebounds while Henry scored 10 points.
“I think we were a little stunned about that loss,” Henry said. “We decided though, let’s finish this tournament out strong, and we did that against Waubonsie Valley. We made it to the Final Four and played well as a team.”
In other Tosh games, RB squeaked by Kenwood 65-61 as Henry and Loury scored 19 points apiece. The Bulldogs also defeated Palatine 58-51 behind Henry’s 22 points and seven rebounds and VandeMerkt’s 12 points. The Bulldogs opened the tournament with a 79-70 victory over Naperville North as three players scored 20 points or more. Henry (23 points), Ljuboja (22 points, 14 rebounds) and VandeMerkt (21 points) served as the Bulldogs’ potent trio against the Huskies.
Henry earned all-tournament team honors at Tosh for the second year in a row.
“I enjoy the competition level because it’s pretty high,” Henry said. “You get to go against people who can guard you and see different defenses. The Tosh tournament always has a lot of top players.”
The improved health of Henry and forward Will Kincanon coupled with solid play from Ljuboja and Loury and the emergence of VandeMerkt has the Bulldogs’ poised for a second-half of the season surge.
“Absolutely, ever since the [Lyons Township] loss we have been playing much better basketball,” RB senior forward Liam Lesniak said about the Bulldogs’ hot streak. “We’re finally getting healthy. We’re passing better and everybody is contributing. You could even see it coming along in practice.”
RB (12-4, 4-0 Metro Suburban Conference) returns to action with a tough league road test at Ridgewood on Friday at 7 p.m.