LANSING | Maybe it was the student section, stocked to standing room only with fans in red and green T-shirts and Santa hats, that put Riverside-Brookfield in such a giving mood early in its visit Friday to Illiana Christian.
Bulldogs coach Tom McCloskey would only concede, "This is always an interesting place to play."
For whatever reason, R-B turned the ball over seven times in the first six minutes, chucked up four of the 10 three-pointers they'd attempt for the evening and exited the first quarter trailing 13-11. Thereafter, things went more according to expectations, with the bigger Bulldogs (6-2, 3-0) pounding the ball inside and easing away from the Vikings (4-5, 1-3) for a 73-61 Metro Suburban win.
"They always have a big crowd here, they're very enthusiastic," McCloskey said. "It's a nice win to get on the road."
The Bulldogs were led by 6-foot-7 Jack VandeMerkt's 27 points on 10-of-13 shooting from the floor and 6-of-10 from the line. Sam Johnson (6-6) added 19 points and 11 rebounds, while Will Kincanon (6-3) had 12 points, 12 rebounds and five assists.
"Kincanon and VandeMerkt in the post, they either made a shot or got to the line," Illiana coach Tom Roozeboom said. "But I'm pleased with the way our guys played. We took it to them."
Sophomore guard Matthew Zandstra led the Vikings with 15 points, while Caleb Jonkman added 12 and Marcus Ottenhoff and Chad Ketelaar 10 each. But 6-2 Brandon Galambos, who led the Vikings with seven rebounds before fouling out, spent as much time as anyone amongst R-B's trees.
"It was a hard game," Galambos said. "I was just trying to play, to get in (VandeMerkt's head).
"We were trying to defend the post, bring help-side defense, but they still got a lot of easy baskets. And a lot of shots I normally make, I was getting swatted on."
Illiana led 23-20 with 2:42 to play in the second quarter when Ottenhoff put back his own miss. From there, the Bulldogs closed the half on a 9-2 run and never again trailed.
In its 24-point third quarter, R-B got 15 points combined from VandeMerkt and Kinconon on 3-of-5 shooting from the floor and 9-of-11 from the line.
Trailing by as much as 11 in the third, Illiana twice got within six in the fourth. One of those occasions was when Galambos produced his entire scoring output on consecutive trips down the floor, first muscling in an old-fashioned three-point play then pulling down a board and going coast-to-coast to make it 59-53 with five minutes left.
That may have been when the crowd reached its highest volume on the night. Clearly, Galambos heard them.
"I used to play for Munster — I made the varsity as a freshman there, transferred here as a sophomore and had to sit out my junior year," Galambos said. "To be playing now in an atmosphere like this, it's a blessing."