RBHS guard Jalen Clanton drives to the basket against Gonzaga's Prentiss Hubb. The Purple Eagles defeated the Bulldogs 76-64 at the Chicago Elite Classic on Saturday, Dec. 5 at the UIC Pavilion. (William Camargo/Staff Photographer)

The Riverside-Brookfield High School boys basketball team has dominated the Metro Suburban Conference for years. Last season, The Bulldogs went 28-4 and advanced to the Class 4A supersectionals en route to the best season in program history.

While RBHS has a rich basketball tradition, the current team has the potential to equal or better last year’s remarkable campaign.

Regarded as one of the best teams in Illinois, the Bulldogs tested themselves against Gonzaga High School from Washington D.C. at the Chicago Elite Classic held at the UIC Pavilion. The visiting Purple Eagles, one of the top teams in the country, eventually wore down RBHS with their incredible quickness and athleticism en route to a 78-64 victory.

“Playing against a team from another state like Gonzaga shows us where we’re at as a team,” RBHS guard Daniko Jackson said. “It’s been fun playing in this tournament. It’s definitely an honor being categorized with some of the best teams in the country.”

The Bulldogs kept pace with Gonzaga in the first half courtesy of center Mark Smith’s impressive post play and three-point shooting of Jalen Clanton and Ryan Cicenas. Smith scored 12 points on 6 of 10 shooting and hauled down six rebounds, while Clanton scored 11 points and Cicenas added six points. The two guards combined to go 5-for-8 from beyond the three-point arc.

The Purple Eagles made their move in the third quarter, however, outscoring RBHS 21-11 to establish a commanding 63-46 lead. Gonzaga expanded the lead to 71-49 with 6:02 left in the game. Division I prospect Chris Lykes threw an alley-opp pass to 6-9 center Jack Lawrence (a Navy commit) for an emphatic dunk during the 8-3 spurt.

RBHS responded with an 8-0 run as Jackson scored on a three-pointer and a traditional three-point play via a lay up plus one free throw. Jackson also made a brilliant no-look pass from the top of the key to Smith for an easy inside bucket.

While Jackson is the Bulldogs’ unquestioned floor leader, Lykes occupies the same role for Gonzaga. The 5-foot-8, 155-pound guard continually attacked the Bulldogs’ defense along with fellow guard and Division I recruit Prentiss Hubb. Lykes has drawn recruiting interest from Miami (Fla.), George Washington and George Mason, while Hubb has attracted interest from Cincinnati, NC State, Xavier and Maryland.

Lykes finished with a team-high 18 points, four assists, four rebounds and two steals. Hubb (16 points, 8 rebounds, 5 steals), Myles Dread (12 points, 10 rebounds) and Eddie Scott (15 points) also contributed for the Purple Eagles.

Although the Bulldogs didn’t display as much firepower offensively as Gonzaga, several players finished with solid numbers including Smith (19 points, 9 rebounds), Clanton (18 points), Cicenas (9 points) and Jackson (8 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds).

Smith, despite playing on a sprained ankle against Gonzaga, enjoyed a good week overall with his inspired showing at the Chicago Elite Classic plus recent commitment to Trinity International University.

“Obviously, it’s exciting to play in the Chicago Elite Classic,” Smith said. “We were so hungry for this game, even before the season. I think can I speak for my teammates in saying we have a really high ceiling and can do some great things this season.”

On Saturday, the Purple Eagles’ relentless speed at both ends of the floor proved too much to handle for RBHS. Gonzaga scored 25 points off turnovers and held a 16-0 advantage in fast break points. Despite Smith’s stellar play, Gonzaga also dominated the boards with a 41-25 advantage and outscored RBHS 48-28 in the paint and 24-6 in bench points.

“They were so athletic,” Cicenas said about Gonzaga. “We haven’t really faced that athletic a team before. It was a great learning experience.

“I loved playing in the Chicago Elite Classic. Just playing in a huge stadium (UIC Pavillion) is something I’ve never done before and the crowd was great.”

With the exception of the third quarter, RBHS played Gonzaga close due to the Bulldogs’ shooting. RBHS made 25 of 52 shots (including 10-for-20 on three-pointers) despite the Purple Aces’ stifling defense.

“We just tried to play with poise and stay together,” Clanton said. “We tried to focus on good ball movement and setting good screens. As a team, collectively, we wanted to make sure Mark (Smith) got enough touches and play from the inside out.

“Gonzaga is a great team and we’ll learn from this experience. It will help us get ready for the state playoffs and reaching our goal of making it to Peoria.”

RBHS tuned up for its Chicago Elite Classic debut by beating Wheaton Academy 49-36 on Friday. The Bulldogs raced out to a 16-5 lead at the end of the first quarter and never looked back en route to winning its conference opener. Clanton led the Bulldogs with 17 points, six steals and four rebounds. Jackson finished with 14 points, five steals and three assists.

The Bulldogs (5-1, 1-0 Metro Suburban Conference) are back in action Friday, Dec. 11 at home against Immaculate Conception. Tip off is 7 p.m.