BATAVIA – Jim Nazos knows his team is close.
He said it postgame after Larkin’s Kindrel Morris’ driving basket in the final seconds thwarted his Bulldogs’ upset attempt Saturday night. It was also evident in Batavia’s play with one or two plays deciding the outcome.
After ending their three-game losing skid with a win over Streamwood Friday night, the Bulldogs did all it could to hand the Royals their first Upstate Eight Conference loss of the season. However, Larkin found a way as Morris scored on the game’s last possession to give the Royals a 52-50 road victory, clinching a share of the conference title.
After Nazos called a timeout inside the final minute, with possession in a tie game, the Bulldogs (19-7, 6-4 UEC River) were called for a travel, setting up the Royals game-winning bucket.
“There’s plenty of things within the game that you can do a little bit better,” Nazos said. “We got beat by a great team here tonight… We’re close. We’re really close. I thought there was a lot of good there tonight. There’s no question the loss stings, but there’s never a question with this team whether they are going to stop competing. [Larkin] is a great team and they got us there at the end.”
After five straight points by Larkin’s Anthony Lynch that gave the Royals (17-6, 9-0) a 50-44 lead, Batavia’s Blake Carlson picked the biggest moment for his first points of the game. Out of a timeout, Carlson knocked down a 3-pointer, followed by getting fouled on another long distance attempt. He made all three free throws to tie the game.
Batavia led at the end of each of the first three quarters thanks in large part to Kyle LeFevre and Eric Peterson, who each scored 11 points. Peterson also grabbed a game-high ten rebounds, adding that he feels the Bulldogs know what they need to do to be successful.
“We are close. We know that,” Peterson said. “It’s just a matter of going out and executing those little things. We have had stretches of games this season where we’re playing how we need to play come postseason. We know that if we can play with Larkin, we can play with anyone in the state. That’s a good team over there and that’s just a tough way for it to come to an end.”
Peterson was one of many players that, at times, had to deal with Lynch (19 points) and Larkin big man Jalen Shaw. The 6-foot-7 Shaw dominated for most of the night, scoring a game-high 20 points and snagging a team-high eight rebounds.
Despite the Royals making just six of 14 free-throw attempts in the second half, they saw the ball go in the bucket the only time it mattered in those final moments.
“I didn’t like the fact that Batavia had lost three games [recently],” Larkin coach Deryn Carter said. “Sometimes teams need that wake-up call at times. They were a different team tonight that lost those three games. The way Batavia runs its offense is very, very difficult to defend. It takes a good defensive effort to beat a team like that… Nazos has them playing very well right now.”
Now out of the conference race, Batavia knows there are things to take care of in its final few games. It will see Larkin again, on the road, before the postseason begins, along with another tough UEC River road test at St. Charles East.
“We just want to take that next step,” LeFevre said. “We have to make the plays to win games like that. Tonight wasn’t our night, but there are positives to take away. We did some good things, but, sure, losses like this aren’t fun.”
“This group keeps going,” Nazos added. “I know there are other teams like us, but this group doesn’t stop working. We have 20 players that come to work every day. I know not everyone plays in these games, but we all have one common goal and we keep taking steps towards that each and everyday.”
Zack Weber added nine points off the bench for the Bulldogs in the loss.