ST. CHARLES – The Larkin boys basketball team’s mastery of Tri-Cities teams continues, with St. Charles East’s conference title hopes the latest victim.
The Royals remained unbeaten in Upstate Eight Conference River play and swept the regular season series over host East on Thursday, topping the Saints, 64-55.
Superior defense and rebounding led the way for Larkin as East’s potent offense misfired most of the game.
“It’s a little frustrating,” East senior forward AJ Washington said. “When you go into the game, you know it’s going to be a big game, you’ve got to treat it like a championship game. They’re a great team. You’ve just got to know you’ve got to play harder and put everything on the line.”
With the win, Larkin (17-3, 8-0 UEC River) took a large step toward repeating as conference champions.
“Unfortunately, I think we played ourselves out of the conference title tonight, but as I put on the board in [the meeting room], there’s regionals ahead,” said East coach Pat Woods, whose team also fell behind victorious St. Charles North in the conference picture.
A miserable third quarter of offense – with East standout Dom Adduci on the bench for much of it with three fouls – saddled the Saints with a 44-33 deficit entering the fourth quarter. East was 1 of 11 from the field in the third quarter and only marginally better in the fourth, drawing no closer than seven points on a pair of occasions early in the quarter.
East (12-9, 6-3) stayed in it for a half – longer than when the teams met in Elgin in December – but couldn’t buy a basket from anywhere for prolonged stretches of the second half.
Returning from a two-game injury absence, Adduci led the Saints with 20 points. Like his teammates, though, Adduci was cold for much of the second half, missing his first eight shots from the floor.
Four Royals starters were in double figures while only two were for East, with Washington (12 points, 11 rebounds, three blocked shots) providing his customary high-energy performance.
Senior guard Kendale McCullum had a game-high 22 points for Larkin and played a leading role defensively in keeping East’s guard tandem of Adduci and Cole Gentry (seven points) from clicking as much as usual.
“What’s good is they’re similar to us, me and [Derrick] Streety,” McCullum said. “So we know how to defend guys like that. … They do a good job of handling the ball and finding the open guys, so we’ve got to keep our eyes on both of them at all times.”
The usually deep Saints struggled mightily off the bench, as no East substitute scored until guard Jake Clodi scored five points in the final 3:13 of the game.
East recovered from a turnover-plagued first quarter to head into halftime trailing by one, 31-30. The Saints made their first three 3-pointers of the night but it proved to be a faulty indication of the shooting night to come.
“I was waiting for it to click,” Woods said. “Because usually once we start going from the outside, it’s contagious. Unfortunately, it was contagious the opposite way.”
The Saints regularly failed to finish drives and convert put-backs against a formidable Larkin front line that includes brawny freshman Christian Negron (10 points, 12 rebounds) and senior Andrew Jones (10 points, nine rebounds). The Royals out-rebounded the Saints, 44-29.
Both teams have substantial conference tests awaiting Saturday as Larkin visits St. Charles North and East welcomes Geneva.