The Riverside-Brookfield boys basketball team put on a show early and pulled away late to secure a 64-51 victory over visiting Elmwood Park on Friday. With the regular season finale win, the Bulldogs clinched the Metro Suburban Conference championship outright — their 12th straight league title.
Riverside-Brookfield (21-6, 11-1) looked spectacular in the first quarter, rolling to a 19-3 lead highlighted by a remarkable left-handed dunk by 6-foot guard Eric Loury and an emphatic two-handed throw-down by 6-6 junior forward Jack VandeMerkt. Damonta Henry scored seven points during the Bulldogs’ flurry, while Miki Ljuboja, Loury and VandeMerkt anchored the defense with several blocks and steals.
Up 14-2 five minutes into the game, RB head coach Tom McCloskey brought in five players off the bench in a game which appeared en route to a pummeling. However, the Tigers responded by outscoring RB 19-7 in the second quarter to pull within 28-21 at halftime.
Riverside-Brookfield led 37-28 with 2:45 left in the third quarter when Henry went on a five-point mini-run to extend the Bulldogs’ advantage to 42-28.
In the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs’ lead swelled to 56-36. Elmwood Park offered one final push, scoring the next 11 points to whittle the deficit to 56-47 with 2:11 left in the game. RB made 6-of-7 free throws the rest of the way, coupled with a Henry basket, to hold off the Tigers.
“This game meant a lot because it’s the last time for us [seniors] to play in this gym,” Henry said. “We wanted to put on a good show for the fans, but also get the job done. We enjoyed the show too much at times and lost our focus, so we had to get down to business.”
Reflecting the Bulldogs’ patchy play at different junctures of the game, VandeMerkt missed his two additional dunk attempts.
“I hadn’t dunked at home all season so I’m glad I got the first one,” VandeMerkt said. “The two dunks I missed, I just jacked the first one and left from too far out on the second.
“I’m glad we won conference, it’s one of our biggest goals every year.”
At the end of the game, RB’s student section stormed the court, providing a fitting exclamation point to another successful regular season by the Bulldogs. RB honored Hunter Claire, Tyler Campbell, Jack Gibson, Jack Hansa, David Aldape, Liam Lesniak, Loury, Henry and Ljuboja on Senior Night.
Henry paced RB with a game-high 19 points, while Ljuboja scored 11 points and hauled down eight rebounds. Presley Garrett and Pat McNulty paced Elmwood Park with 10 points apiece.
The Bulldogs turn their attention now to the Class 4A state playoffs with an opening round game against Conant on Wednesday (7:30 p.m.) at the Hoffman Estates Regional. The Cougars beat RB 44-38 in overtime at the Tosh Holiday Classic earlier this season.
“We need to turn it up 100 times more if we want to continue past Wednesday,” Ljuboja said. “It’s the only thing that’s acceptable.”
RB basketball is flourishing on the lower levels as well. The freshman team (23-0) will notch the first undefeated basketball season in school history with a win today over Elmwood Park. The RB sophomores finished the season with a 21-3 mark, highlighted by a 13-game winning streak to close out the season.
“It’s been a tremendous year for the program,” McCloskey said. “All three levels reached the 20 [win] mark which is outstanding. Hopefully, our success means more good things for the future.”