ST. CHARLES – The St. Charles East boys basketball team played so well last week, it almost begged the question whether the Saints could be peaking too early.
That notion is no longer on the table after Thursday’s come-back-to-earth, 61-53 Upstate Eight Conference River loss to Larkin.
The Saints were hoping to exact a measure of revenge after the Royals plastered the Saints in St. Charles last season but it was instead Larkin that atoned for a disappointing conference-opening loss to Streamwood earlier this week.
Larkin coach Deryn Carter called East “as good as anybody” in the area, giving his improving program’s triumph extra resonance.
“We lost on Tuesday [against Streamwood], we shot 4 for 32 from three, but we told them all yesterday, we’ve got to keep shooting,” Carter said. “We can’t be anybody different than who you are. They knocked down big shots. That’s what we called on them to do, and they responded tonight.”
The biggest of Larkin’s three-pointers came off the fingertips of senior guard Quantice Hunter, who put the Royals ahead for good with a trifecta that made it 54-51 with 1:15 left in the game.
East point guard Dom Adduci lost the ball at the other end, and the Saints were forced to foul. Saints standout Kendall Stephens fouled out with 56 seconds to go, and Royals senior Quentin Ruff (game-high 24 points) hit both free throws as Larkin began to put a stanglehold on the game.
Carter thought the Royals did a nice job harassing Adduci throughout the night.
“He’s a heck of a player,” Carter said. “I think what our guards did tonight better than what they’ve done in the past is pressure and contain at the same time. When he did try to make some moves to beat us, we were there far enough away to contain those moves, and I think that kind of bothered him a little bit.”
The Saints (4-1, 0-1 UEC River), returning to the floor where they earned smashing reviews en route to the St. Charles East Thanksgiving Tournament title last week, had to claw to stay within striking distance of the Royals much of the night.
The Royals (5-1, 1-1 UEC River) went ahead, 47-41, with 4:15 left in the fourth quarter on a Ruff three-pointer. But East chipped away at the deficit and caught the Royals twice – at 49 on an Adduci drive and 51-all on Stephens’ lefty layup with 1:35 to play.
But Larkin closed the game on a 10-2 run to re-assert itself as a conference contender after being upset by the Sabres.
East trailed, 23-22, after a foul-plagued first half in which the Saints put Larkin in the bonus with a minute left in the first quarter and Stephens picked up his second foul 70 seconds in to the game.
Sophomore Jake Asquini replaced Stephens for the rest of the quarter and scored the Saints’ first seven points of the night. But Larkin surged early in the second quarter, moving ahead, 18-11, after a Ruff three-pointer that prompted a Saints timeout during which East coach Pat Woods lit into his team in demonstrative fashion.
Stephens led East with 15 points, while Asquini had nine and Adduci eight. Junior forward A.J. Washington continued to excel in his super-sub role off the bench, snaring a team-high 11 rebounds and adding six points, including a dunk that brought East within 47-43.
The Royals converted 11 free throws in the fourth quarter to solidify a key early-season victory.
“It’s as good of a win as we could expect or want in November,” Carter said.