Senior J.P. Hanley and his Riverside-Brookfield boys basketball teammates became an even stronger unit this season after being forced apart.
The Bulldogs were 9-1 when a COVID-19 quarantine forced them to miss the York Tournament and all games between Dec. 17 and Jan. 7.
“We had a really rough stretch and then we really pulled together as a team,” Hanley said. “It was really what we did off the court that made us play well on the court.”
The Bulldogs’ solid effort March 1 nearly erased an 11-point third-quarter deficit before top-seeded Whitney Young prevailed 64-54 in the IHSA Class 4A Sectional semifinals at Proviso West.
Fourth-seeded RBHS (23-6) led for the last time at 50-48 with 4:47 remaining after another three-pointer by Hanley. The Bulldogs closed to 54-52 on senior Joevonn McCottry’s basket with 2:41 to play. The taller Dolphins then blocked three shots and made two steals on RBHS’ last six possessions.
The Dolphins (25-9) earned a downstate trip by beating Kenwood 75-62 on March 7.
“It just came down to they just made more plays down the stretch,” RBHS coach Mike Reingruber said. “We had opportunities. They made plays and we didn’t.”
McCottry had 21 points on three three-pointers and added three steals. Seniors Joe Gilhooley (12 points, 6 rebounds) and Brady Vaia (9 points with 2 threes) and Hanley (8 points) also were big contributors.
RBHS regained the Metro Suburban Conference Blue Division title and captured a third straight regional.
“It was a good season overall,” McCottry said.
Sophomore Will Gonzalez started with the four seniors. Seniors Corey Baker and DaMahrion Murrell and junior Arius Alijosius were key contributors off the bench.
The quickness of Baker and Murrell helped to neutralize Whitney Young’s distinct height advantage led by 6-foot-8 University of Miami recruit A.J. Casey and 6-8 Northern Illinois recruit Xavier Amos (14 points). Junior Marcus Pigram had seven of his 23 points in the fourth quarter.
“Putting ourselves in a position with Whitney Young, four minutes to go, tie game … I can’t be more proud of our guys,” Reingruber said.
RBHS was behind 38-27 in the third quarter before back-to-back threes by McCottry and Hanley off a Gilhooley assist sparked a 10-0 run.
“I’ve been playing with these dudes since fourth grade. I know one thing. We’re going to fight until the final buzzer,” McCottry said.