For the second time this season, Conant spoiled the Riverside-Brookfield boys basketball team’s bid to win a big game. The Bulldogs, who lost to Conant 44-38 in overtime at the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic semifinals in December, endured an even more disappointing 67-61 loss to the Cougars in the Hoffman Estates Regional semifinals of the Class 4A playoffs last week.
In the rematch, the normally slow-paced Cougars caught RB a bit off guard by playing at a relatively faster pace. The Bulldogs also experienced early foul trouble, particularly with their post players Miki Ljuboja and Jack VandeMerkt.
Engaged in a back-and-forth battle the entire game, RB trailed Conant 46-37 early in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs responded with an 11-0 run to take a 48-46 lead with 5:40 left in the game.
“When we went up two, we thought we had them,” said RB junior forward Will Kincanon, “but they responded and made some shots. It was a game of runs, and they had the last big one to win the game.”
With the game knotted at 51-51, the Cougars caught fire with a 10-0 spurt of their own to reclaim a seemingly comfortable 61-51 advantage with two minutes left in the game.
The Bulldogs rallied once more by causing multiple turnovers to pull back within 63-61 with less than 10 seconds to play; however, the Cougars’ iced the victory as Joey Ranallo and Robert Hudson each made two free throws.
Senior guard Eric Loury led RB with 15 points, eight rebounds and three steals, while fellow senior forward Liam Lesniak chipped in 13 points, four rebounds and three steals. Damonta Henry (11 points, four rebounds, four assists) and Kincanon (nine points, five rebounds) also contributed for the Bulldogs.
Danny Sotos and Hudson paced Conant with 15 points apiece.
Despite the early exit in the postseason, the Bulldogs produced another excellent season under veteran coach Tom McCloskey. RB (21-7, 11-1 Metro Suburban Conference) won its 12th consecutive conference title and finished third at the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic.
RB loses nine players to graduation, notably Loury and all-conference Metro Suburban players Miki Ljuboja, Henry and Lesniak. Ljuboja also earned Metro Suburban Conference Player of the Year recognition.
Looking ahead though, McCloskey welcomes back several key players including Kincanon and VandeMerkt. Reinforcements will come from other returning varsity letterman and also the Bulldogs’ talented sophomore and freshman A teams, which collectively finished 45-3 this season.