Though St. Charles North led Larkin by a point after one quarter, the North Stars were playing with fire and they knew it.
Saturday night's Upstate Eight River boys basketball contest in Elgin was played at the up-and-down pace Larkin prefers right from the outset. Soon came the inevitable.
The Royals pressured St. Charles North into 7 second-quarter turnovers and forced 8 more in the third to pull away for a 76-56 victory. Larkin (18-3, 8-2) outscored St. Charles North (11-8, 4-4) in the middle two quarters, 46-28.
"I thought the first half was well-played by both teams, but I really thought it was a pace that we play at often," Larkin coach Deryn Carter said. "Maybe they got tired or maybe we just made a couple of more plays in the second half, but pace is huge in basketball and I thought this game was played at a pace that we liked."
The North Stars were rarely able to slow the tempo.
"We practiced all week on slowing everything down and playing at our pace, but when we went out there they definitely knew how to speed us up," said 6-foot-6 St. Charles North senior Justin Stanko, who scored 10 points, all in the first half. "We just kept turning the ball over."
Larkin established its inside game early as 6-foot-5 junior Brayden Royse and 6-6 junior Drew Jones combined for 15 first-half points. Royse would finish with 12 points while Jones scored 11 to go with 3 blocks and 3 assists.
"Drew and I wanted to come out right away and make a statement," Royse said. "We have to come out here and play a championship-level game every time."
Two more Royals cracked double-digits: junior guard Kendale McCullum (game-high 20 points) and junior sixth-man Derrick Streety (12 points). Streety nailed a 3-pointer from the volleyball line at the second-quarter buzzer to stake the Royals to a 40-32 lead. McCullum laid waste to the North Stars' plan to limit him.
"McCullum is a slasher," St. Charles North coach Tom Poulin said. "The game plan was to stay in front and not get right up in him. For some reason we were guarding him pretty closely and he was able to attack. That's going to get your big guys in foul trouble and it's going to allow him to drive and kick."
Larkin's defense focused on 6-4 Loyola-bound senior Quenten Payne, whom the Royals limited to 12 points on 4-of-12 shooting and 7 rebounds.
"He's as good as there is in the Northwest suburbs. He's a load and he plays his butt off." Carter said. "It was talked about consistently (Friday) in practice about everything he can do on the floor. You have to make him work. You can't stop him; we don't have anyone who can. Our guys made him work. That was our concentration."
"We made their other players step up instead of just Payne," Jones said.
Junior guard Alec Goetz scored 11 points and 6-6 senior Kyle Swanson added 7 points and 4 rebounds for the North Stars. St. Charles North won the rebounding battle 31-22 but committed 22 turnovers compared to Larkin's 10. "We got them out of their comfort zone," McCullum said. "That's how got all those steals and turnovers."
Thanks to multiple transition layups, Larkin shot 55 percent from the field (29 of 53).
"The last two games, defensively, I think we've gone backward," Poulin said. "We're much better defensively than we've shown the last two nights. We'll fix that because we've got a huge weekend coming up next week."
St. Charles North hosts Batavia next Friday and faces a rematch Saturday at St. Charles East. Larkin returns to action Tuesday against visiting South Elgin.