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If there's one thing Larkin senior Quentin Ruff likes as much as having the ball in his hand in the fourth quarter, it's playing games at St. Charles East.
Ruff scored 13 of his game-high 24 points in the fourth quarter Thursday of the Royals' 61-55 win over the Saints.
Larkin (5-1, 1-1 in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division) also won at St. Charles East a year ago. Ruff hit four 3-pointers and 8 of 10 free throws including all six of his attempts in the final 56 seconds.
"I just knew my team wanted me to take big shots like that," Ruff said. "We knew we had a tough matchup today but we knew if we played as a team we could beat them. That's what we did."
The Saints (4-1, 0-1) came into the game after winning their own Thanksgiving tournament for the first time since 1994 including an 18-point victory over St. Joseph. The Royals came in after a surprise loss to Streamwood Tuesday.
The Royals rebounded in a big way in a back-and-forth battle with 21 ties or lead changes. The final tie came at 51-51 on a Kendall Stephens drive with 1:30 remaining.
Larkin guard Kendale McCullum penetrated into the lane and drew multiple defenders, then kicked out to Quantice Hunter who buried the go-ahead 3 for a 54-51 lead with 1:12 left.
"Our point guard made a big play by feeding me the ball and I was just ready to shoot it," Hunter said. "St. Charles East, they are a team that people were thinking is going to win the league and this is a big win to give them a loss just like us."
It didn't take long for things to go wrong for the Saints. They committed 3 fouls on Larkin's first possession of the game, then Stephens picked up his second foul and sat the final 6:50 of the first quarter.
Sophomore Jake Asquini replaced Stephens and scored the first 7 points of the game for the Saints, but Hunter pocketed a steal and took it the other way for a layup and 12-11 Larkin lead after the first quarter.
Larkin took the biggest lead of the game at 20-13 midway through the second quarter. The Saints pulled within 23-22 at halftime on a putback by freshman James McQuillan in the closing seconds.
The game stayed just as tight in the second half. Larkin led 37-36 going to the fourth quarter, then pressured the Saints into back-to-back 5-second calls while getting a key corner 3-pointer from Andrew Jones to open up a little breathing room at 40-36.
The Saints, after making just 13 of 32 shots through three quarters, warmed up late to make 8 of 15 in the fourth quarter. They went on an 8-2 run to tie the game at 49-49 with 2:05 remaining on Dom Adduci's hard drive.
After Ruff and Stephens traded baskets, Hunter's 3 gave the Royals the lead for good, and Stephens fouled out on Larkin's next possession with 56.5 seconds left. Ruff's perfect free-throw shooting down the stretch denied the Saints a chance to tie; Larkin hit 18 of 24 from the line to the Saints' 9 of 17.
"Starting off 4-0, we tried to tell the kids Larkin was going to be ready," Saints coach Patrick Woods said. "We never really got in a rhythm tonight. It shows we have a lot of things to work on. It's one game, we are not flustered by any means, we executed poorly."
The Purdue-bound Stephens finished with 15 points, 9 below his average. Ruff saw plenty of time on Stephens while getting help.
"We contained Kendall and came out with the win," Ruff said. "Just playing team defense, it's not just one person, it's everybody helping, recovering and denying the ball. Everything we did as a team."
Hunter joined Ruff in double figures with 14 points and had 2 of the team's 9 steals as the Saints turned the ball over 17 times.
"Our guys made plays down the stretch," Royals coach Deryn Carter said. "They make the coaching staff look good when they make those kinds of plays. It goes back to Tuesday night and responding like this. These guys (St. Charles East) are the favorites in the conference, nobody would tell you any different, and to come out here on the road as well as they were playing, it's hard to get a better win in November."
Adduci, who was in a walking boot and missed practice this week after spraining his ankle Saturday against St. Charles North, was held to 8 points.
AJ Washington continued his strong play off the bench with 8 points, a game-high 12 rebounds and 2 dunks. David Mason grabbed 8 rebounds.
"It's a long season," Woods said. "We knew it's going to be a battle. We talk about conference being a four-horse race, we're only one of the four. It's the first (UEC) game, we'll be fine."