ELGIN – The halftime entertainment during Saturday night's boys basketball game between St. Charles North and host Larkin featured a game among feeder program youngsters, and a Larkin-bound eighth grader caught the gymnasium's attention with his advanced stature and ability to dunk.
The Royals' future looks promising and, once the second half resumed, the home team reminded the North Stars that the program's present is pretty nice, too.
Larkin dominated the third quarter to take control of an eventual 76-56 Upstate Eight Conference River win against North, sweeping the season series.
The Royals (18-3, 8-2 UEC River) remained in first place in the conference by forcing 24 turnovers against North, turning many of them into instant points.
"We weren't tough enough tonight, between the ears and physically," North coach Tom Poulin said. "I thought they got to every loose ball. If there were four hands on it, it ended up in theirs. We let some calls affect us. We let things just snowball. We didn't just move on to the next possession, which a tough team does."
North (11-8, 4-4 UEC River) played a competitive first half and led 25-24 after a second quarter spin move by Quinten Payne, but the Royals closed the half crisply, punctuated by junior Derrick Streety's running 28-footer at the halftime buzzer to provide Larkin a 40-32 lead.
North closed within six points three times early in the third quarter but a 10-0 Larkin burst midway through the quarter padded the Royals' lead to 54-38, and the rout was on. Rangy Larkin junior guard Kendale McCullum (game-high 20 points) was in the thick of much of the havoc Larkin created.
"They're really good on-the-ball defenders," North senior Kyle Swanson said. "We've got to do a better job of helping [point guard Tony Neari] out. [McCullum] is a really quick, on-ball defender. We've got to do a better job of choking them off with a screen and helping Tony out."
Larkin senior standouts Quantice Hunter and Quentin Ruff were kept to relatively quiet scoring nights but McCullum's recent emergence gives Royals coach Deryn Carter another major threat in his deep backcourt.
"Coming into the year, he was a little bit of an unknown because we moved him up [to varsity] late last year," Carter said. "Great kid. He's doing everything he needs to do. He's just another guard we've got who can make some plays and, right now, his number's being called more often, and hopefully in a week or two, we have another guard that can step up and answer the bell."
Both teams had success going inside in the first half, with North senior center Justin Stanko scoring all 10 of his points in the first half and 6-foot-5 Larkin junior Brayden Royse displaying a soft touch while notching eight of his 12 points before the break.
Poulin said his team's defense – a source of optimism after the team's strong showing at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament – has gone south in recent days.
"I just thought the last two nights, Thursday (in a win against East Aurora) and tonight, defensively, it's as if we've gone backwards," Poulin said. "We're much better defensively than we've shown the last two nights. We have to fix that because we have a huge weekend coming up next week."
Payne scored 12 points and junior guard Alec Goetz added 11 for the North Stars, who have Tri-Cities home matchups Friday against Batavia and Saturday against St. Charles East.
Swanson said the North Stars need to handle adversity better than they did Saturday.
"We've just got to play better defense when things start going bad," Swanson said.
Larkin's final two UEC River games are at Elgin and at Geneva. If the Royals win both, they're assured no worse than a share of the title with St. Charles East, which also has two conference losses – both against the Royals.