Larkin boys basketball coach Deryn Carter has talked all season about how his team wins because of its unselfish attitude.
While that may be true, on Friday night the Royals needed a difference-maker.
And that's what senior Kendale McCullum can be, and was.
McCullum scored 20 of his game-high 23 points, including 11 straight at one point, in the second half and Larkin outscored the visiting North Stars 22-12 in the fourth quarter to win the Upstate Eight River matchup 69-54 before a sizable crowd in Elgin.
"He stepped up big-time," said Carter of McCullum, who was 6 of 7 shooting in the second half, including 5 of 5 in the third quarter. "He's a three-year varsity starter and one of the best players in the area. In the second half he realized just let the game come to you and be yourself. We've been talking to him about not pressing and just letting the game come to him and being himself."
That's what McCullum was, as he led a Larkin offense that broke loose from a 27-27 halftime tie to a finish that saw the Royals (6-1, 2-0) score the most points the North Stars (5-3, 2-1) have given up this season.
"It all started with my teammates," said McCullum, who was also 7 of 8 from the free-throw line, including 6-for-6 in the second half. "Without their rebounding and getting it to me I wouldn't have those opportunities.
"Earlier in the season I was going too fast. Today (Carter) talked to me about slowing down and letting it come to me and he was right."
McCullum and the Royals drew rave reviews from St. Charles North coach Tom Poulin.
"He's their engine," Poulin said of McCullum. "He stepped up down the stretch. He was their difference-maker tonight."
The North Stars hung with the defending River champs until late in the third quarter when McCullum went on a one-player binge. With Larkin leading 36-35, McCullum went on a personal 11-4 run to put his team ahead 47-39 with 48 seconds left in the period.
But SCN senior Alex Goetz hit a 3-pointer with 32 seconds left to pull the Stars within 5, 47-42, entering the fourth quarter. North then took a 52-51 lead on 2 free throws from Goetz with 5:08 to play but Larkin made 15 of 16 from the free-throw line and outscored the North Stars 17-3 thee rest of the way.
"The best thing was when we got down by one, and I was thinking about a timeout, I looked out there and their body language was good," Carter said of his team.
"We're always taught that they're gonna punch you, you just gotta punch back," said McCullum."
Senior Taylor Boley came off the bench to nail 3 3-pointers and score 13 points for the Royals, while senior Drew Jones scored 11 with 10 rebounds and senior Brayden Royse added 9 points. Larkin shot 23 of 52 for the night and won the rebound battle 38-36. The Royals only turned the ball over five times all night.
"We knew there'd be a run in the third quarter but I wasn't happy with how we reacted to the run," said Poulin, whose team was in foul trouble with key players all night. "We got a little too worried about the foul situation. Larkin earned the win. They won the loose ball battle and the 50-50 balls and they were all over the boards. Larkin earned the victory tonight and we got better tonight. Larkin exposed some things."
The North Stars, who lost 6-foot-4 senior Erik Miller to a recurring shoulder injury from football less than a minute into the game, were led by 22 points from junior Jake Ludwig, who battled through a rolled ankle late in the third quarter. The North Stars were just 21-for-55 shooting and had just 11 free-throw attempts to Larkin's 30.