Regardless of Saturday’s result in the Bill VandeMerkt Thanksgiving Classic final, host Riverside-Brookfield High School was going to go out shooting against highly touted Oak Park and River Forest High School.
Why wouldn’t they, considering the Bulldogs made a school-record 20 treys in a win over St. Laurence earlier in the tournament.
Unfortunately, the visiting Huskies had plenty of length and athleticism throughout their lineup to bother the Bulldogs’ offensive flow and shooting in the championship game.
Employing its “Huskie Havoc” defense, OPRF cruised past RBHS 79-62 Saturday night.
“I think we shot the ball extremely well the first three games,” RBHS coach Tom McCloskey said. “We had 16, 20 and 10 3-pointers in those games. We also had a nice comeback against Rich East, battling back from 15 points down.
“OPRF is a really good team. We didn’t match up very well against them. Congratulations to them for playing very well and going 4-0 for the week.”
OPRF senior forward Jared Scott (24 points, 9 rebounds) set the tone early, scoring the Huskies’ first seven points. He added a 3-pointer and post up basket to power OPRF to a 17-12 lead after one quarter
“I’m glad we’re gelling this early in the season,” Scott said. “We believe in each other. Our defense was great against RB. We like to push the ball, but we also can play offense in the half court and be patient, smart with our possessions.”
Midway through the second quarter, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound Scott threw down a two-handed dunk to cap off a 13-2 run, which extended the Huskies’ lead to 32-17.
RBHS senior center Calvell Randall played well in the paint, scoring nine of his 11 points in the second half to keep the Bulldogs within striking distance at 36-25.
The Bulldogs’ only lead of the game occurred on senior swingman Jalen Brooks’ layup to go up 6-4. The teams also tied twice, but OPRF essentially controlled the game from start to finish.
Ignited by three consecutive layups by junior Isaiah Fuller, OPRF had an 11-6 spurt to push the lead to 56-42 in the final minute of the third quarter. The 6-1 guard, who is a very good passer as well, keep the decision making simple.
Up 58-44 entering the fourth, the Huskies built their advantage to 73-50 causing RBHS coach Tom McCloskey to pull his starters midway through the quarter.
Led by Jake Vaia, Zach Vaia, Alexander Meindl and Tremaine Conley, the RBHS bench has talent, albeit unproven, at the varsity level. The Bulldogs are undersized as well with only two players 6-4 or taller.
Conversely, OPRF boasts eight players who are 6-4 or taller.
The Huskies, who played primarily man-to-man defense, played excellent defense against RBHS.
Senior forward Jalen Brooks led the Bulldogs with 15 points, while senior guards Jalen Clanton and Henry Trelenberg scored 12 apiece.
“Our No. 1 goal was to make them count by two not three,” OPRF coach Matt Maloney said. “Cicenas, Clanton and Trelenberg are such phenomenal shooters. We had to make sure to chase them off the 3-point line.”
Bulldogs set shooting record
Despite the loss in the finals, the Bulldogs played well overall at their season-opening home tourney.
In fact, RBHS won in a variety of ways to punch its ticket to the championship game.
Trailing Rich East by as many as 15 points in the first half, the Bulldogs bounced back for a 74-71 comeback victory. Trelenberg and Clanton finished with 20 points apiece and Clanton contributed 17 points and eight assists.
The Bulldogs’ best performance was the 85-56 win against St. Laurence. RBHS made a school record 20 3-pointers (breaking the previous record of 19 in 2009) en route to an impressive victory against the Vikings. Trelenberg (19 points, 6 assists), Clanton (18 points, 6 assists) and Ryan Cicenas (15 points, 5 assists), collectively, accounted for 16 treys. Randall chipped in nine points and eight rebounds.
The Bulldogs defeated Rich Central 89-72 in their tourney opener as Clanton turned in a terrific effort with 25 points, seven assists, six rebounds and five steals, while Cicenas scored 21 and Trelenberg had 18. Randall recorded a double-double with 10 points and 10 boards.
The VandeMerkt Thanksgiving Classic all-tourney team included Trelenberg, Clanton, Scott (MVP), Fuller, Rich Central’s Glen Abram, Rich East’s Antron Washington and St. Laurence’s Justin Wierzgac.
“Jalen (Clanton), Henry and Ryan all had good tournament performances,” McCloskey said. “Jalen (Brooks) and Calvell did a nice job rebounding for us. The majority of the team got some good minutes which will help us moving forward.”
Since the tournament’s inception in 2003, RBHS has won the tournament six times (2015, 2014, 2011, 2009, 2008, 2003).
RBHS (3-1), which has won 15 straight conference championships, opens league play at Immaculate Conception Friday, Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m.
“This is a huge game coming up against Immaculate Conception,” McCloskey said. “We need to have a great week of practice.”