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Rich East’s Russell Wright (right) stretches out before delivering a pass in a 75-65 victory over Joliet Central in the first round of the McDipper Tournament. | Jeff Vorva~For Sun-Times Media
Rich East doesn’t exactly have a rich history in the McDipper Tournament.
The Rockets have a second-place finish in 2008, a consolation title in 1996 and second place in the consolation bracket in 1997 in 18 years of competing.
But in the 40th running of the tournament in Richton Park, the Rockets are thinking big — as in a championship. They took their first step Wednesday with a 75-65 victory over Joliet Central.
Don Henderson led the Rockets with 23 points, including eight of the team’s first 16 points, and 19 rebounds,
The Rockets are 5-2 overall with a quality win over Crete-Monee and losses to Marian Catholic and Bloom. They have a rematch with Marian in the quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Thursday.
“We get another chance at Marian right away, and we would love another chance at Bloom because that would mean we’re playing in the title game,” Rich East coach George Leonard said. “We have something to prove — and there is no question that we’re here to win it.”
The Rockets broke the game open in the third quarter when they went on a 12-1 run midway through the third period to take a 43-28 lead. Brandon Cole (14 points) knocked in a pair of three-pointers in the run and Ronald Lawton (15 points) added four points.
“We picked up our intensity and played more as a team in the third quarter,” Lawton said. “When everybody picks up the defense and plays their roles, we play well.”
The Rockets scored 50 points in the second half and outrebounded Central (6-5) 41-22. Nick Horne added 10 points for the Rockets while Lawton came up with seven rebounds. Russell White had six assists and Cole added four as the Rockets enjoyed an 18-4 assist advantage over the Steelmen.
No. 8 Marian Catholic 69, Rich Central 52: Tyler Ulis scored 17 points and dished out nine rebounds for Marian Catholic (10-1). Kevin Phillips added 15 points and nine rebounds for the Spartans. Jamaal Murray’s 13 points led Rich Central.
No. 10 Bloom 58, Phillips 36: Dejahown Freeman totaled 16 points and five rebounds to lead Bloom (8-2).
Hales Franciscan 82, Tinley Park 75: Vince Gooden finished with a team-best 23 points for Tinley Park (4-7). Marcus Stokes added 12 points for the Titans.