Larkin stole one from rival Elgin Friday night.
More specifically, junior guard Kendale McCullum did.
After Larkin guard Quentin Ruff failed to extend a 2-point lead by missing both free throws with 11 seconds left, Elgin point guard Arie Williams raced upcourt with no timeouts left, looking to tie the Upstate Eight River game or possibly win it with a 3-pointer. Williams entered with 2 game-winning shots to his credit this season.
Elgin's leading scorer had already drained 8 of his 14 attempts from 3-point range, but Williams was met just inside midcourt by a phalanx of three Larkin defenders, including 6-foot-6 junior Drew Jones. Williams was caught in no man's land as the Elgin play unraveled due to miscommunication amid the jet engine-level screams from the respective student sections.
While Williams dribbled and scanned furiously for an escape route, McCullum came from his left and tipped the ball away with three seconds left. McCullum sprinted ahead and ran out the clock, sealing a heartstopping 68-66 win for the Royals at Chesbrough Field House.
"We wanted to get the ball out of his hands because we've seen what Arie can do in a clutch situation like this," said McCullum, who made 5 steals. "I just tried to get the ball out of his hands."
"The play was set for me to come off a screen," Williams said. "Everybody cleared out, but there were so many people on that one side that came up at me. I saw Drew, then all the sudden I saw McCullum come in and steal the ball. It was tough."
Only three of Elgin's five players ran the correct play in the final seconds, according to Elgin coach Mike Sitter, who tried in vain to bark instructions to one of his players standing 20 feet in front of him but was drowned out by the noise.
The win was Larkin's third of the season against Elgin, which had previously beaten the Royals eight straight. It looked midway though as if it would by the easiest victory of the three for Larkin (20-3, 9-2), which led 39-25 at halftime, powered by 17 of Ruff's team-high 21 points.
However, Elgin (10-11, 2-7) which trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half, rallied. The Maroons outscored the Royals 23-17 in the third quarter and 18-12 in the fourth, mainly because Williams got help. Forward Malik Dunner scored 9 of his 10 points and center Eric Sedlack scored 11 of his 16 points and grabbed 9 of his game-high 15 rebounds after halftime. Elgin won the rebounding battle 37-29.
The Maroons pulled within 68-66 on a putback from reserve Moses Gibson with 45 seconds left and gained a chance to tie or take the lead when Sedlack took a charge with 35 seconds remaining.
However, a potential go-ahead, 3-point attempt by Williams didn't fall, and a putback attempt from Ryan Sitter rimmed out.
"We missed 12 layups in this game," Mike Sitter said. "If we make half of those, we probably win."
The long rebound came to Ruff, who was fouled and went to the free-throw line with 11 seconds left.
"It's an Elgin-Larkin game so they're not going to go away," Larkin coach Deryn Carter said of the Maroons. "There's too much pride at stake, especially the third time around. Our guys did enough, I guess, to pull it out. Maybe that's what we take away from it.
"In order to accomplish some of the things we want to accomplish, you have to win games like these, where you win holding on as opposed to going away. We'll take it."
Quantice Hunter finished with 14 points, McCullum had 10 and Jones added 7 rebounds for Larkin, which can clinch at least a share of the UEC River title with a win next Friday at Geneva.