Junior Mark Smith and his Riverside-Brookfield boys basketball teammates used a familiar scenario Friday to tread new ground in program history.
When the Bulldogs defeated Oak Park-River Forest for the second time this season, 67-61, to capture the Class 4A Leyden Regional, they achieved their first regional title as a 4A school and first regional overall since 2011. The victory was also just the sixth regional title in the history of the R-B boys basketball program which has existed for over 100 years. Since taking over the program in 2001-02, head coach Tom McCloskey has guided the Bulldogs to four of those regional championships.
R-B (26-3) also established the program’s outright record for victories in a season. The Bulldogs, the No. 1 seed in the Morton Sectional, will play No. 5 Curie in the Morton Sectional semifinal at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 10.
“This is exactly what we’ve been working for for so long. That was our main goal, win a regional, see how far we can get, see what we can do,” Smith said. “Even though we already beat them, we knew they were different, we knew they were tougher. It just means a ton for us.”
R-B junior guard Daniko Jackson (20 points), Smith (18 points) and sophomore Jalen Clanton (10 points) all scored in double figures. Dallis Flowers, the Huskies’ lone starting senior, had 24 points and freshman Alan Griffin and junior Breshawn Wilkerson each had 11 for the No. 8 Huskies (17-10).
“It’s great to win a regional. Winning a regional with four classes is a lot harder,” McCloskey said. “I thought Mark got us going early (11 first-quarter points). Daniko had a tremendous game. It was a great team effort. We beat an awfully good team tonight.”
On Nov. 29, the Bulldogs beat OPRF 62-57 in the championship game of R-B’s Bill VandeMerkt Classic after opening an 18-point lead in the third quarter only to see the Huskies nearly rally.
On Friday, the Bulldogs surged to a 17-5 lead after one quarter, opened a 20-point gap at 27-7 but again had to hold on after the Huskies closed to 59-53 with 1:28 left and 62-57 with 39 seconds.
R-B sank 16 of 19 free throws in the fourth quarter of the second-half foul fest to finish 24 of 28 for the game compared with 16 of 21 for OPRF, which actually had one more field goal. Each team had seven threes.
Jackson had 15 of R-B’s 25 fourth-quarter points and was 10-for-10 from the line to finish 12 for 12. He also faked a drive, and pulled up to drain a momentum-shifting three for a 55-42 lead with 3:12 left.
“That’s one of my bigger quarters. When I do concentrate, do my routine, I make my free throws,” Jackson said. “Both of (our accomplishments) are pretty big, and we take credit for both of them. They’re a blessing for everything we have done.”
Flowers had 13 of the Huskies’ 27 points in the fourth quarter with two of his three threes. With a lineup even boasting a sophomore and two freshmen, the best soon may be yet to come.
“I think these guys really surprised some people winning 17 games with the schedule we have,” OPRF coach Matt Maloney said. “No one was expecting anything from us. We were picked to finish last in the conference (and were third). I’m really proud about how the seniors and the young guys played.”
The Huskies had won seven straight and nine of their last 10. They immediately dug a hole with 2 of 16 shooting in the first quarter and 6 of 32 at the half, yet they only trailed 32-18.
“We did the same thing with them the first time,” Maloney said. “This is the first time since probably early or mid-January that we didn’t really play four quarters. We kind of reverted back to our earlier days of the year but we fought back and won the rest of the game. Had we had one more quarter, we would have been victorious.”