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Elgin High dominated the city's cross-town boys basketball rivalry for six years beginning in January 2006, but nemesis Larkin put an emphatic halt to that last season.
Larkin snapped Elgin's streak of 8 consecutive series victories and 14 of 15 by sweeping all 4 meetings against the Maroons in 2012-13, including a 9-point victory in the Elgin Holiday Tournament title game and a 22-point regional semifinal win.
Elgin (3-6, 1-1), which still leads the all-time series 79-44, aims to end Larkin's budding streak and reclaim bragging rights when the teams square off in an Upstate Eight River clash at Chesbrough Field House on Thursday at 7:15 p.m.
"I know they'll be hungry for a win," Larkin coach Deryn Carter said of the Maroons. "They'll make things interesting."
Defending UEC River champion Larkin (7-1, 3-0) is the favorite. The Royals enter the game ranked No. 2 in the Daily Herald Top 20 behind only Stevenson. Larkin is a balanced team, as demonstrated in the scoring averages of starting senior guards Kendale McCullum (14.6 ppg) and Derrick Streety (11.6), senior forwards Drew Jones (13.9) and Brayden Royse (7.0) and 6-foot-5 freshman Christian Negron (8.3).
Opponents might be able to limit one or two Royals, but no team can contain all five. When McCullum was held to 4 points in the season opener against Belvidere, Streety scored 18, Jones had 12 and Negron 11. When Jones, Streety and Negron were limited to single digits against Hononegah, McCullum scored 17 and Royse added 10.
Then there are games like the Royals enjoyed against St. Charles East on Dec. 5, when four of the five starters scored in double figures, led by Streety (20) and McCullum (16), and reserve guard Taylor Boley sank a trio of 3-pointers. Larkin ran away with that game, 82-65.
What attribute stands out most when scouting the Royals?
"Their athleticism," said Elgin coach Mike Sitter, who owns an 11-5 career record against Larkin. "Usually, when we walk on the floor we're a little more athletic than the teams we play. A little smaller, but more athletic. Against Larkin we won't be. We'll have to be fundamentally sound and execute because we're not going to be the best athletes just walking on the court.
"But you always want to play the best competition. We've already faced Stevenson and some of the really top teams in the area, so we feel we can play with anybody. It all comes down to if we're going to guard and we're going to defend the basket. We can't just trade baskets with them. We're going to have to get stops defensively."
The Maroons have scored 52.8 points per game since senior wing Isaiah Butler recovered from an ankle injury and joined the lineup in the fifth game of the season. They allow 60.3, which doesn't bode well against a Larkin squad that scores 69.1 points per game.
"We have to match their intensity, especially on the defensive end," Elgin senior wing Desmond Sanders said. "We can score against any team; that's not the problem. It's defense. Giving up 70 a night is not the game plan. We have to match their intensity on the defensive end and get boards because they are pretty big. Box out and I think we'll be fine."
Elgin has its share of athletes. Offensively, the Maroons are led by Butler (21.2 ppg), a 6-foot-1 wing who has scored 106 points in 5 games. He has 13 3-pointers to his credit.
"Butler is obviously a high-volume scorer, but it's not necessarily about stopping him from scoring as much as containing him from having a huge night," Larkin coach Deryn Carter said. "They have some other guys that can hurt you. We knew they'd be good. They have a lot of young guys and lots of athleticism. They're finding their way a little bit. It'll be about playing hard."
Other Elgin weapons include senior wings Sanders (12.2 ppg, 18 3 pointers) and Donte Harper (6.2), senior posts Ryan Sitter (8.4) and Kiko Mari (6.3) and sophomores Lavion Baldwin (7.7) and Desmond Douglas (4).
Larkin owns a distinct height advantage. Jones, Royse and Negron are all listed at 6-foot-5. The Royals recently won the rebounding battle against St. Charles East 43-21. Elgin's Sanders and Mari both stand 6-4, but overall the Maroons are a smaller team that has to fight for rebounds. Elgin was outrebounded in 2 losses at Chesbrough last week: 27-23 by Burlington Central and 44-24 against Geneva.
Can the Maroons improve enough to challenge their rival?
"They're fast, they're good and they're one of the best," Elgin senior post Ryan Sitter said. "We have to match that and come out ready to play."