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Despite missing five players due to either injury or Prep Bowl participation, Brother Rice still showed plenty of firepower en route to a 71-68 win over host Riverside Brookfield at the 10th Annual Bill VandeMerkt Thanksgiving Classic on Saturday.
The Bulldogs raced out to a 10-0 lead two minutes into game, but the Crusaders (3-1) responded with eight three-pointers the rest of the first half to gain a 41-34 advantage at the half.
Riverside-Brookfield 6-foor-8 center Miki Ljuboja, who finished with a game-high 29 points, scored the first six points of the second half to pull the Bulldogs within 41-40 before Brother Rice extended its modest lead.
After a pair of Ljuboja free throws cut the Crusaders’ lead to 61-59 midway through the fourth quarter, Quinn Niego canned a corner jumper and converted a tough left-handed layup plus a free throw to give Brother Rice some breathing room at 66-59 with 2:27 left in the game. In the closing seconds, R-B (2-2) missed a game-tying three-point attempt after Brother Rice squandered its lead with turnovers and missed free throws.
“We have to finish the game smarter,” Brother Rice coach Pat Richardson said. “We were lucky enough to get a great win and learn from it against a good basketball team on its home floor.”
Niego led a balanced Brother Rice attack with 22 points, along with strong performances from Alex Majewski (21 points, 14 rebounds), Ray Rubio (16 points, nine rebounds) and Jim Barista (12 points). Those four players accounted for all of the Crusaders’ points. Niego was 3-for-3 from beyond the three-point arc, while Majewski and Rubio sank four three-pointers apiece.
“I think all of us focused after a tough loss [to Neuqua Valley],” Niego said. “We came prepared and knew what we could do.”
Aside from Ljuboja’s impressive work in the paint, the Bulldogs’ senior guards tandem of Eric Loury and Damonta Henry netted 19 points and nine points, respectively.
“[Ljuboja] is tough inside, a big strong kid,” Majewski said. “It was a back and forth battle. We’re looking forward to the rest of our guys coming back, but until then we have to play with who we have and fight through.”
Neuqua Valley claimed the tournament title with a 4-0 record, followed by runner-up Brother Rice.