The Oak Park and River Forest and Riverside-Brookfield High School boys basketball teams had a hunch they would meet in the championship game of the Bill VandeMerkt Thanksgiving Tournament.

The host Bulldogs held off a late rally by the Huskies to earn a 62-57 victory on Saturday. RBHS improved to 4-0 while OPRF fell to 3-1.

Fueled by Erick Locke’s 31 points, OPRF defeated RBHS 84-71 en route to the tourney title last year.

In Saturday’s rematch, the Huskies took control early, making five three-pointers to take a 17-13 at the end of the first quarter.

RBHS outscored the Huskies 19-4 in the second quarter, including by a 10-0 run to build a 32-21 halftime advantage. The Bulldogs added seven more unanswered points to build a commanding 39-21 lead early in the third quarter. The Bulldogs’ impressive 17-0 spurt was capped off an inside basket from junior center Mark Smith off an assist from Daniko Jackson, the tournament MVP.

The Huskies put together runs of 8-0 and 15-0 in the fourth quarter to threaten the Bulldogs. Junior guard Breshawn Wilkerson made a layup to pull OPRF within 53-52 with just over a minute remaining; however, RBHS made nine free throws down the stretch to preserve the hard fought victory.

In the closing seconds, the Huskies’ Elliot Greffin sank a three-pointer and sophomore Cameron Gross added a tip in bucket to make the score 62-57.

“Our team has a lot of heart,” Wilkerson said. “We always believe in ourselves and we believe that we can make it through everything.”

 Wilkerson scored a game-high 26 points and Dallis Flowers added 18 points for OPRF. Connor Fuller chipped in nine points.

Smith led RBHS with a team-high 18 points and seven rebounds. Sam Johnson (12 points, 16 rebounds), Jalen Clanton (11 points) and Jackson (nine points, eight assists) also contributed for the Bulldogs.

“We know that [OPRF] is a tough team,” Smith said. “We were ready for them to come out really tough. Daniko handles himself so well under pressure. He calms everyone else down and keeps everybody under control. It got kind of crazy at times in the game, but we held ourselves together.”

Wilkerson viewed the game against RBHS as the perfect tune-up for conference play.

“RB is really a tough team to play,” Wilkerson said. “It was a really good test for us to get ready for what’s coming up in our conference. We just have to keep playing our game and getting our defense stronger.”

Flowers, who played with Wilkerson on the OPRF football team in the fall, also feels competing in the well regarded VandeMerkt tourney benefitted the team.

“This was a great tournament,” Flowers said. “It showed us where our highest peaks are and what our team is capable of.”

In other games at RBHS, the Huskies defeated Providence-St. Mel 61-42, Rich Central 53-39 and TEAM Englewood 74-25. Flowers scored 25 points and Connor Fuller chipped in 11 points against Providence-St. Mel. Flowers scored a team-high 20 points against both Rich Central and TEAM Englewood.

RBHS, which finished 21-7 last season, looks on target for another successful season.

“It’s great to win our own tournament,” Johnson said. “We’re such a young team. We stuck together even when [OPRF] started to come back and we pulled out the win.”

Added Smith: “It’s so awesome. You’ve got so many great teams from the city here plus OPRF. I couldn’t wait to play [OPRF]. The fact that we came out on top was just really great.”

OPRF takes on cross-town rival Fenwick (Fri., Dec. 5, 6 p.m.) in the opening game of the Third Annual Blue Blue Shield Chicago Elite Classic held at UIC this weekend.

Whitney Young and Simeon, currently the two most powerful high school basketball programs in the state, have teamed up to form this prestigious event, which features a collection of the finest local and national high school basketball programs including teams from California, Utah, Tennessee, New York and Texas. For more information, visit www.chicagoeliteclassic.com.

RBHS, which has won 13 straight conference titles, opens Metro Suburban Conference play against visiting Wheaton Academy on Fri., Dec. 5 at 7 p.m.

2014 Bill VandeMerkt Thanksgiving All-Tournament team

MVP-Daniko Jackson, RBHS

Eddie Burnett- Providence-St. Mel

Jalen Clanton, RBHS

Dallis Flowers, OPRF

Sam Johnson, RBHS

Twan Taylor, Rich Central

Breshawn Wilkerson, OPRF

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