St. Francis falls at buzzer
St. Francis was within an inch of taking the Metro Suburban Blue leader into overtime.
The Spartans' final shot on Friday, a 21-foot 3-point attempt off an inbounds pass with 4.1 seconds left in the fourth quarter, bounced off the rim.
Riverside-Brookfield won for the 11th time in 12 games, 49-46 at St. Francis' Spyglass Athletic Center in Wheaton.
"We played them (Jan. 10), lost by 20, 15 (70-56), lose by 3 now. I think that's good progress for our team," said St. Francis center Bryce Walker.
"Next time we beat them. Next time we beat a team that we lost to last time. That's how you win regionals, that's how you win sectionals. We're going to keep going, hit the ground running," he said.
With Chicago Christian's win over Aurora Christian on Friday, Riverside-Brookfield (18-8, 8-2) moved a half-game ahead of Chicago Christian in the Metro Suburban Blue standings with two conference games left.
"With the inexperienced group that we have that lost some games early, we're winning some of those games right now," said R-B coach Mike Reingruber.
"I think that's a sign that they're getting experience and getting more comfortable, just getting those minutes under their belt that they didn't get last year."
Things didn't get cooking Friday until St. Francis (16-13, 5-6) bit into the Bulldogs' 23-15 halftime lead. The Spartans capitalized inside with the 6-foot-8 Walker and 6-4 Robert Nocek, and on the perimeter mainly with sophomore Sebastian Miller, who scored his 10 points in the second half.
"Nobody can stop our bigs once you get us inside. We can either score or open things up for the outside," said Walker, who scored 11 points. Nocek led St. Francis with 12 points and 8 rebounds.
The Bulldogs' 6-5 Jamir Truman countered down low to keep his team up 34-29 after three quarters.
The Spartans rallied from a 41-34 deficit to tie 43-43 with 1:50 remaining when Miller grabbed an offensive rebound and hit a 3. He'd previously gone 0 for 4 beyond the arc.
"I still have to have the confidence there, that I keep on shooting in a game," Miller said. "So if I get the green light to shoot then I've just got to keep on shooting and they'll go in eventually."
R-B led 47-43 when with 35 seconds left Miller hit another 3 from the right wing to draw St. Francis within a point.
Bulldogs point guard Luke Gentile, under vocal duress from St. Francis' Blue Crew, sank two free throws with 23.6 seconds left for the final margin.
Truman scored a team-high 16 points. Neither team committed more than 9 turnovers despite strong defense.
"They're a really good team, they're on a huge winning streak, they're playing really well. To be down by 3, to get an open shot like that, I mean, I'll take it," said St. Francis coach Erin Dwyer.
"The things that we're trying to fix now are literally the most finite things in order to be able to win a regional championship. Making sure we're on the same page."