Larkin boys basketball coach Deryn Carter was willing to take chances with less-seasoned personnel in Thursday morning's 60-49 win over Barrington in the name of gaining experience.
With a bid to the semifinals of the Hinkle Holiday Classic at Jacobs sewn up before the Royals took the floor for the final game of pool play, Larkin (12-1) started its usual lineup, including guards Kendale McCullum and Derrick Streety. But Carter entrusted a 19-point lead with six minutes to play mostly to reserves playing alongside 6-foot-5 freshman starting forward Christian Negron.
Youthful Barrington (3-10) went on a 19-2 tear and drew within 51-49 on a pair of free throws by 6-foot-5 center Zach Bart with 1:17 to play, but Carter's faith in his reserves was rewarded when they earned a few defensive stops in the final 80 seconds and drained 9 of 10 free throws to seal the victory.
"I know coach has faith on everyone on the bench," said Larkin sixth man Taylor Boley, the only Royal to crack double figures in scoring (15 points). "Keeping them in, I thought he did a good job with it."
"It was about making sure some of these young guys got the experience of having the ball with a minute and a half," Carter said.
Barrington's full-court pressure harassed the Royals into 6 fourth-quarter turnovers and helped the Broncos get back in the game, but it was also responsible for a late foul on Larkin sophomore guard Keyvon Kyles, who sank both ends of the bonus to give the Royals a 53-49 lead with 1:16 remaining.
The Broncos then missed 4 shots at the other end over a 30-second span. Larkin finally regained possession when Negron stripped the ball from Barrington senior Austin Madrzyk as he attempted to drive the lane. "I just wanted to make the best play, the team play," Negron said. "Don't try to be the hero."
"We were down 4 with 30 seconds left," Madrzyk said. "You have to get good possessions. I wanted to get to the basket for myself or draw and dish. I was hoping for something to happen, but it didn't work out."
Boley was fouled hard by a Barrington player as the Royals countered in transition, resulting in a technical foul on top of a bonus attempt. Boley sank all 4 free throws to give Larkin a 57-49 cushion and the ball with 32.8 to play. Kyles was fouled on the subsequent possession and split 2 free throws, making it 58-49 lead with 29.5 left.
The loss was the fifth straight for Barrington, all by 12 points or less. Madrzyk led all scorers with 16 points and sophomore post Rapolas Ivanauskas finished with 15 points and 8 rebounds for the Broncos, who concluded pool play 0-3.
"You hope it gives our kids some confidence," Barrington coach Brian Tucker said of sticking with the once-beaten Royals until the final minute. "Obviously, everyone's been talking about them since preseason and how talented they are. To be right there with them, maybe that will give us the impetus for a little more work and a little more focus. Maybe we can get over the hump."
Larkin led 12-8 after a quarter and 27-21 at halftime, but Negron provided separation by opening the third quarter on a personal 6-0 run, capped by a two-handed, fast-break dunk from a McCullum assist.
"Coach told me at halftime I was one step behind everybody and I had to catch up because I was playing real slow," said Negron, who finished with 8 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Larkin will face Zion-Benton (10-1) in Friday's first semifinal at 6 p.m.
"We have to execute at a high level," McCullum said of the semifinal. "We have to be ready to rebound and play defense and do the things we have to do to win. It's going to be a tough one. It won't be easy. If we stay focused and play at a high level, I think we'll be able to compete."