Athletic Larkin thrives via the fast break, but the Royals were beaten 78-72 by a taller version of themselves in a semifinal of the Hinkle Holiday Classic at Jacobs Friday night.
In what might have been a preview of the Class 4A DeKalb supersectional if each highly regarded team goes on to win its respective sectional, Zion-Benton (12-2) overcame an early deficit with a 14-0 second-quarter run fueled by 10 fast-break points.
Later, when Larkin (12-2) trimmed a 15-point, third-quarter deficit to 70-68 with 1:10 to play on one of senior guard Kendale McCullum's many acrobatic drives through the lane, the Zee-Bees immediately countered by beating the Royals down the floor for an easy layup from 6-foot-6 senior Milik Yarbrough.
"You hear about this team and you wonder why they're so good, and it's because they are coming at you every time on offense," Larkin coach Deryn Carter said. "I could have done a better job of explaining that to our guys, that they were not going to stop. Their comfort zone is offense. Unfortunately, we let them stay in it because we wouldn't get back in transition. But even when we were in the half court Yarbrough was having his way with us."
An undeclared Division-I recruit with interest from multiple high-profile college programs, Yarbrough scored 12 of his game-high 32 points in the fourth quarter to offset McCullum and the comeback-minded Royals. McCullum blew past his previous career high of 24 points, finishing with 31 on 11-of-20 shooting to go with 4 assists, 2 steals and a block.
"It started in the beginning of the game when I started attacking early," McCullum said. "My guys started trusting me and everybody started feeding me because I was hot. Being a senior and being a team captain, I had to step up and get the guys going."
Larkin took a 17-15 lead through a quarter, sparked by 7 points from McCullum and 6 from senior forward Drew Jones, who finished with 16 points and 6 rebounds.
The Zee-Bees controlled the second quarter, outscoring Larkin 17-7 to take a 32-24 halftime lead. Zion-Benton's defense limited the Royals to 2-of-13 shooting in the second period, which, combined with a 9-5 rebounding edge, sparked the transition game.
"We knew they were going to be fast and little," Yarbrough said. "They had two guards who I think are one of the best backcourts in the state. We just wanted to come out and rebound and get the ball up court to do what we needed to do to get the win."
Yarbrough scored 11 third-quarter points, and talented 6-foot-5 guard Admiral Schofield blew past a defender on the baseline for a one-handed dunk that extended Zion-Benton's lead to 45-30. Schofield scored 7 of his 17 points in the third period.
Larkin still trailed 52-41 entering the fourth quarter, but McCullum's 11 points in the final eight minutes kept the Royals competitive. A 3-pointer by senior Brayden Royse pulled the Royals within 58-56 with 5:40 remaining, but Zion-Benton 6-7 senior Jerome Davis answered with a putback and 6-3 senior Trenton Curry followed with a pair of free throws on the ensuing possession.
Larkin trimmed the deficit to 70-68 on McCullum's drive with 1:10 left, but the Zee-Bees closed the game on an 8-4 run. Yarbrough scored 6 of those points on the aforementioned counter, a fast-break slam dunk and a pair of free throws.
"It's a big confidence boost for us to beat a team that, like us, is a top-ranked team in the state," Schofield said. "It's a big goal for us to make it downstate and we really want to keep pushing and pushing against teams like this. This is a big accomplishment."
Schofield finished with 17 points and 7 rebounds and Davis had 12 points and 9 rebounds for Zion-Benton, which faces Carmel (9-2) for the tournament title at 7:30 p.m.
Freshman Christian Negron posted 12 points and 7 rebounds and Royse had 11 points and 9 rebounds for Larkin, which plays host Jacobs (5-4) for third place at 6 p.m.