Boys basketball: Riverside-Brookfield can’t overcome slow start in loss to Simeon

Bulldogs fall in regional final for second year in a row

Riverside-Brookfield's Stefan Cicic

HINSDALE – Center Stefan Cicic and the Riverside-Brookfield boys basketball team’s large senior class hoped to return to their home court by winning the Class 4A Hinsdale Central Regional on Friday.

But a rough night and tough opponent bit the No. 3-seeded Bulldogs as No. 6 Simeon pulled off a 52-42 victory while never trailing.

“Today was a tough day. It was a good team. We expected a hard-fought battle. Today is very emotional,” Cicic said. “(R-B coach Mike Reingruber) talked to us at halftime. Just keep our heads up. Just play hard. We thought we had a chance. Obviously, they’re a good team and they held their own.”

This was the second straight regional final loss for the Bulldogs (26-5), whose strong class of eight seniors, including starters Cicic, Steven Brown and Mekhi Austin, never experienced a regional title.

The 7-foot Cicic finished with another double-double, this time 20 points and 10 rebounds. Brown (11 points, 5 rebounds), junior Danny Loftus (5 rebounds), Austin (4 points) and senior Sam Shelven (4 rebounds) also contributed.

The group contributed to a sixth conference title in Reingruber’s seven seasons as head coach and a fifth straight 20-win full season.

Cicic transferred from Niles North Dame as a junior. Austin, a long-time friend of Brown, transferred this season from Oak Park-River Forest.

“I just feel for these seniors. They’ve put their heart and soul into this,” Reingruber said. “They’ve left a legacy. They’ve had a tremendous two-year career. I’m just thankful for everything they’ve done in our program.”

Several factors hampered the Bulldogs on Friday. They started slow, falling behind 5-0 and not scoring for the first 4:08. They made just 11 of 23 free throws, 5 for 15 in the first half. Their usually strong outside shooting was 1 for 11 on 3-pointers with the lone make by Vince Dockendorf with 1:45 remaining. Brown and sophomore guard Cameron Mercer battled early foul trouble and eventually fouled out in the fourth quarter.

“We just couldn’t get it going. The main thing was from the (free throw) line,” Brown said. “The ball wasn’t going in the basket, so that was determining our defense. We couldn’t get stops. We weren’t getting rebounds. It was a lot.”

Still, the Bulldogs only trailed 25-19 at halftime and threatened at 37-33 on Cicic’s traditional three-point to open the fourth quarter.

But Simeon scored the next seven points and led by at least seven the rest of the way despite 1 for 10 free throw shooting in the final 1:22 to finish 9 for 20.

“We never really got in a flow offensively. Some of it was our decision making but a lot of it had to do with them. They sped us up a little bit,” Reingruber said. “We never went on any runs. Any time we had an opportunity, they made a play and credit to them.”

Even with Cicic’s inside dominance, Simeon led 33-29 in rebounds with 10 offensive rebounds that led directly to three baskets.

While Lorenzo Shields (17 points, 7 rebounds) and Rashad McKinnie (13 points, 6 rebounds) led the way, Simeon also received a combined 18 points and 13 rebounds from five non-starters. Shields’ last-second basket gave the Wolverines a 46-44 victory over No. 10 Hinsdale Central in Wednesday’s semifinals. He’s among only three players who began this season with previous varsity experience after nine seniors graduated.

“This is the biggest win for us of the year. Nobody expected certain things from us but we’ve been in every game,” Simeon coach Tim Flowers said. “We’ve been talking about it all year. We’re not coming in with a traditional Simeon team. Because we don’t have that top-heavy team, we have to make sure those other guys are ready to play when called on.”