ELGIN – Larkin’s student section started an “It’s too easy!” chant after another layup for the home team during the third quarter of Thursday’s boys basketball game against St. Charles East.
Unfortunately for the Saints, they were on to something.
In a game the Saints pinpointed as crucial toward their Upstate Eight Conference River Division title hopes, Larkin raced past East, 67-53.
The win gave the Royals a sweep of the teams’ regular-season series.
Two weeks removed from losing Purdue recruit Kendall Stephens to a season-ending shoulder injury, the Saints’ season might be heading toward a critical juncture.
“We’re in a regrouping stage of our season,” East coach Pat Woods said. “You lose a potential All-American player, and we’re trying to find ourselves right now. Unfortunately we’re finding ourselves in the toughest week of the season.”
The Royals (15-2, 5-1 UEC River), arguably one of the state’s most improved teams, were efficient and explosive in the open floor.
Their ability to create transition baskets, coupled with solid shooting in the half-court, was a lethal combination.
“We like to play fast, we practice that way, and it shows in a game like this when we can get the tempo going our way,” Larkin coach Deryn Carter said. “Our guys did a great job. They do a great job of sharing the ball. They do a great job trying to find the right shot, not their shot.”
East (10-6, 3-2 UEC River) was coming off a nonconference loss Tuesday in which the Saints coughed up a fourth quarter lead against Glenbard West, and the Saints’ struggles might have bled into the start of the Larkin game. The Saints missed their first eight shots from the floor and spotted the Royals a 10-0 lead.
“Just a disappointing start,” Woods said. “For such a big game, to start 10-0 is frustrating.”
Larkin led, 34-20, at halftime and went ahead by 16 before the 1-2 punch of senior Ben Skoog and sophomore Cole Gentry helped East close within 39-30 midway through the third quarter. Skoog, who has started most of the season but did not play in the first half, scored seven of his 10 points during the third quarter and also grabbed three rebounds.
“I came out like I had to prove myself, had to do anything I could to help the team,” Skoog said.
But the Royals regrouped smoothly and, by the end of the third quarter, restored their 16-point advantage, 50-34.
Junior guard Dom Adduci, who canned a trio of 3-pointers in the second quarter, cooled off in the second half but still led East with 17 points. Gentry added 11 for the Saints.
Larkin expanded its lead to as many as 23 points, at 65-42, before the Saints made inroads in the final minutes. Senior guards Quantice Hunter (21 points) and Quentin Ruff (14 points) led the way for the Royals, who are slotted in the same postseason regional as the Saints.
Larkin, which won a much more competitive game in St. Charles earlier this season, has proven a nasty matchup for the Saints the past two years.
“We know we’re going to see them again in regionals, either first game or second game,” Skoog said. “They’re putting a chip on our shoulder. Next time we see them, we’ve got to put it to them.”
East’s loss leaves Larkin and Geneva as the last remaining one-loss teams in UEC River play. The Vikings, who still have both meetings remaining against the Royals, were scouting Thursday’s game, and will try to keep pace with Larkin tonight when they head to Batavia.