The Riverside-Brookfield and Oak Park and River Forest High School boys basketball teams had a hunch they would meet in the championship game of the Bill VandeMerkt Thanksgiving Tournament.
The host Bulldogs held off a late rally by the Huskies to earn a 62-57 victory on Saturday. RBHS improved to 4-0 while OPRF fell to 3-1.
Fueled by Erick Locke’s 31 points, OPRF defeated RBHS 84-71 en route to the tourney title last year.
In Saturday’s rematch, the Huskies took control early, making five three-pointers to take a 17-13 at the end of the first quarter.
RBHS outscored the Huskies 19-4 in the second quarter, including by a 10-0 run to build a 32-21 halftime advantage. The Bulldogs added seven more unanswered points to build a commanding 39-21 lead early in the third quarter. The Bulldogs’ impressive 17-0 spurt was capped off an inside basket from junior center Mark Smith off an assist from Daniko Jackson, the tournament MVP.
Whether it was handing out assists, sinking jumpers or harassing the Huskies on defense, Jackson did a masterful job as the Bulldogs’ floor general.
“We know that [OPRF] is a tough team,” Smith said. “We were ready for them to come out really tough. Daniko handles himself so well under pressure. He calms everyone else down and keeps everybody under control. It got kind of crazy at times in the game, but we held ourselves together.”
The Huskies put together runs of 8-0 and 15-0 in the fourth quarter to threaten the Bulldogs. Junior guard Breshawn Wilkerson made a layup to pull OPRF within 53-52 with just over a minute remaining; however, RBHS made nine free throws down the stretch to preserve the hard fought victory.
In the closing seconds, the Huskies’ Elliot Greffin sank a three-pointer and sophomore Cameron Gross added a tip in bucket to make the score 62-57
“Our team has a lot of heart,” OPRF junior guard Breshawn Wilkerson said. “We always believe in ourselves and we believe that we can make it through everything.”
Smith led RBHS with a team-high 18 points and seven rebounds. Sam Johnson (12 points, 16 rebounds), Jalen Clanton (11 points) and Jackson (nine points, eight assists) also contributed for the Bulldogs.
Wilkerson scored a game-high 26 points and Dallis Flowers added 18 points for OPRF. Connor Fuller chipped in nine points.
“RB is really a tough team to play,” Wilkerson said. “It was a really good test for us to get ready for what’s coming up in our conference. We just have to keep playing our game and getting our defense stronger.”
Flowers, who played with Wilkerson on the OPRF team in the fall, also feels competing in the VandeMerkt tourney benefitted the team.
“This was a great tournament,” Flowers said. “It showed us where our highest peaks are and what our team is capable of.”
RBHS, which finished 21-7 last season, looks on target for another successful season.
“It’s great to win our own tournament,” Johnson said. “We’re such a young team. We stuck together even when [OPRF] started to come back and we pulled out the win.”
Added Smith: “It’s so awesome. You’ve got so many great teams from the city here plus OPRF. I couldn’t wait to play [OPRF]. The fact that we came out on top was just really great.”
In other games at the tournament last week, RBHS rolled to three victories. The Bulldogs defeated Rich Central 66-42 as Johnson and Clanton scored 12 points apiece. Johnson recorded a double-double of 16 points and 14 rebounds, Smith and Clanton scored 15 points each and Jackson dished out six assists in a 79-45 rout of Providence-St. Mel. In their season/tourney opener, The Bulldogs crushed TEAM Englewood 77-33 as promising sophomore Henry Trelenberg scored 13 points and Johnson had 12 points and five assists. All 13 players scored for RBHS.
RBHS, which has won 13 straight conference titles, opens Metro Suburban Conference play against visiting Wheaton Academy on Fri., Dec. 5 at 7 p.m.
OPRF takes on cross-town rival Fenwick (Fri., Dec. 5, 6 p.m.) in the opening game of the Third Annual Blue Blue Shield Chicago Elite Classic held at UIC this weekend.
Whitney Young and Simeon, currently the two most powerful high school basketball programs in the state, have teamed up to form this prestigious event, which features a collection of the finest local and national high school basketball programs including teams from California, Utah, Tennessee, New York and Texas. For more information, visit www.chicagoeliteclassic.com