In anticipation of Larkin's strongest boys basketball team in several years, coach Deryn Carter added some challenging nonconference games to the 2012-13 schedule, Saturday's tilt against talented, athletic Morton being one example.
Intent on proving they can play with heralded teams like the rising Royals, the Mustangs not only challenged Larkin, they used a 6-1 run in the game's final 3:01 and survived Larkin's last-second shot attempt to pull out a 63-62 victory in Elgin.
The Mustangs and their exuberant fans stormed the court after the victory, a back-and-forth contest that was played with a March-like intensity by both sides. The game featured lead changes in every quarter -- 16 of them in all -- and 9 ties.
"That's what we wanted to schedule it for," said Carter, whose team was coming off a key conference win Thursday at St. Charles East. "We got a lot out of it except for the result. It's Dec. 1. Maybe you can learn from it."
Trailing by a point, Larkin (5-2) had possession and a chance to win with 4 seconds remaining. After three consecutive timeouts were called, Larkin's Drew Jones triggered the ball from the sideline near midcourt. With 2 fouls to give, the Mustangs (3-1) committed a quick one, leaving Larkin 2.8 seconds with which to operate.
Jones tried to inbound again, but the Mustangs blanketed Larkin guards Quantice Hunter and Quentin Ruff in the frontcourt just as coach Tony Martinucci had instructed, forcing Jones to inbound the ball to guard Derrek Streety in the backcourt.
A hustling Streety dribbled over midcourt, but he was met by two defenders and hoisted a well-guarded 3-point attempt that grazed the front rim as the buzzer sounded.
"First we were going to stop (Ruff) and (Hunter) from getting the ball, then they set up in a different set so we went man," said Morton guard Greg Carter, who led all scorers with 24 points. "We had 2 fouls to give so we just tried to hurry that clock up and get it going. It was real meaningful because we're trying to get ranked. They beat St. Charles (East) the other day, and we had to come beat them."
Larkin (5-2) used an 8-0 run midway through the fourth quarter to take a 61-57 lead. Brayden Royse scored on a deft inside feed from Jones, and Hunter tied the game 57-57 on a driving, acrobatic bank shot. Ruff stole the ball from a Morton guard and finished a breakaway layup for a 2-point lead, and Kendale McCullum subsequently stole an inbounds pass and fed Hunter for an easy layup that staked Larkin to a 61-57 advantage with 3:22 to play.
Back came Morton. Senior Waller Perez (9 points) scored an inside bucket, and guard Jarvis Cannon fed a backdoor bounce pass to 6-6 sophomore Weisner Perez (10 points), who converted a game-tying, reverse layup with 1:31 left.
A driving attempt by Jones lipped off the rim into the hands of Cannon, who spotted a breaking Greg Carter for a fast-break layup and a 63-61 Morton lead with 57 seconds to play.
Larkin junior guard Derrick Streety was fouled at the other end after an offensive rebound by McCullum. Streety sank the first free throw with 7 seconds left, but his potential game-tying second attempt was long and rebounded by the Mustangs. That wasn't an unusual outcome; Morton won the rebounding battle 43-27, led by Weisner Perez (15 rebounds, 9 offensive) and Waller Perez (14 rebounds).
"We didn't do a very good job of it," Deryn Carter said of the rebounding imbalance. "At one point we as a staff were talking about what lineup to put in, but it didn't really matter. That's what (the Mustangs) do. They're so athletic and they get on the glass. We told our guys that sometimes their best offense is getting the ball up on the rim and going to get it, and it proved true."
Cannon scored 12 points and Weisner Perez added 10 points for Morton. Larkin led Hunter with 15 points while Streety and McCullum each contributed 12 points for Larkin.
"We knew they could play," Hunter said. "We tried to play with a city team because that's the kind of team we're going to be playing if we go far this year. This was a good test for us and we just tried to come out with the win, but we couldn't come out with it. We have to get back to doing what we do to win games."