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O’Brien: Fenwick’s Mike Smith sparkles again in win over Riverside-Brookfield

Fenwick senior Mike Smith did it again on Saturday. He was dominant, scoring 34 points to lead the No. 9 Friars to a 67-64 win over No. 25 Riverside-Brookfield at Glenbard East.

Smith scored 38 to beat No. 3 Simeon on Monday. It’s been quite a week for the uncommitted point guard.

Once again, it wasn’t just the point total, it was how he did it. Smith was able to get to the free throw line four times in the final three minutes. His intelligence made his four fouls almost irrelevant.

“The refs called one (charge) the whole game,” Smith said. “R-B isn’t known for taking charges, they are known for blocking shots. I just kept taking it to the rim and nobody took a charge so I didn’t have to worry about anything.”

It was a new experience for Smith.

“That’s my first time ever having four fouls in high school,” Smith said. “I never reach or anything but the ref was calling them today. It is what it is, so I just had to play with four fouls.”

Fenwick coach Rick Malnati said he never thought about sitting his star.

“I play with guys with four (fouls),” Malnati said. “We switched then and he didn’t guard (Daniko Jackson) he guarded (Jalen Clanton). If we’re going to lose he’s going to play. It’s not the end of the world if we lose.”

Riverside-Brookfield (14-3) led by nine points at the half and four after three quarters. They shot just 2-for-11 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, assisting the Fenwick comeback.

“The first half our intensity was great, it was our pace and our offense was clicking,” Riverside-Brookfield coach Tom McCloskey said. “Second half was a grind and we struggled at the free throw line.”

Mike Ballard (15 points) hit several key three-pointers. He was red-hot shooting the second half of last season and Malnati is hoping that’s a trend. He referred to Ballard as a “second semester shooter.”

“The last couple games I really do feel like I’ve been shooting a lot better,” Ballard said. “I guess what he said is true.”

Jacob Keller scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds for the Friars. Jamal Nixon was a key defensively, limiting Riverside-Brookfield big man Mark Smith to 13 points and nine rebounds.

Riverside-Brookfield (17-2) had a lofty preseason ranking. The Bulldogs are full of potential and should be a major factor in the Class 4A state tournament in March. But they are still searching for a significant regular season win.

“I was happy with how we competed,” McCloskey said. “It came down to the end and we just came up a little short.”

Jackson led the Bulldogs with 17 points. Clanton scored 14 and Skyler Nash added 13 points and nine rebounds.