Larkin continued playing unselfish basketball Thursday night at St. Charles East, placing four players in double figures in a 64-55 victory to stay unbeaten in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division and end the Saints' title hopes.
Kendale McCullum made 12 of 13 free throws on his way to a game-high 22 points, Derrick Streety scored 15 and freshman Christian Negron and Andrew Jones both added 10 as the quartet took turns making plays any time the Saints got close.
As much teamwork as they displayed on the offensive end, Royals coach Deryn Carter was even more impressed with their work holding an explosive St. Charles East that recently put 90 points on St. Charles North to 32 percent shooting (21 of 66) and a 3-point third quarter when Larkin broke open a tight game.
"We get a lot of credit for being unselfish offensively. The offensive unselfishness comes from what we are doing defensively," Carter said. "We rotate really well, we talk, and our guys came in with a collective mindset to make things hard for them. They missed some shots they usually make which helps us, but our guys did a heck of a job."
Larkin (17-3, 8-0) put three games between itself and St. Charles East (12-9, 6-3) in the River. Only St. Charles North at 6-2 has a realistic shot of at least of sharing the title with the Royals, and Larkin can put an end to the North Stars' chance when they travel to North Saturday night.
"It was a battle, two tough teams going at it," McCullum said. "It means a lot knowing we left everything on the court and knowing we have to do the same thing Saturday to stay undefeated. The first time we played them they were getting easy shots, we weren't rotating, we played selfish. Tonight we rotated and closed out and didn't allow them to get easy shots."
That was especially true in the third quarter. After 5 ties and 5 lead changes in the first half, Larkin extended a 31-30 halftime lead to 44-33 as the Saints missed 10 of their 11 attempts in the third quarter.
It didn't help when Dom Adduci, averaging 23.4 points a game, went to the bench with his third foul and the Saints down 37-33. McCullum quickly drove for a basket, Jones drained a 3-pointer and Streety scored and was fouled.
The Saints didn't score a point without Adduci for the final 4:33 of the quarter, and the Royals' lead grew to 11 points.
"I thought we had to sit him because whoever he was guarding they were attacking," Saints coach Patrick Woods said. "It was too risky. I thought we could weather the storm a little. Obviously that hurt us."
Adduci came back with 10 points in the fourth quarter to finish with 20, but it was too late. The Saints got as close as 47-40 on Cole Gentry's 3.
McCullum and Jones scored the next 5 points for the Royals, and they led by double figures until the final seconds.
"They are a great team all around, offensively, defensively," Woods said. "Their guards are two solid defenders and then you have Negron lurking back there to block a shot. I think we were rushed in general. I don't know if it was nerves or excitement or the magnitude of the game. Usually when we start going from the outside it is contagious and unfortunately it was contagious in the opposite way."
Larkin led 16-13 after one quarter. Adduci's 3 to open the second tied the game, and the Saints took their biggest lead at 21-18 on Adduci's putback.
He picked up his second foul moments later, and Larkin scored 11 straight points to go up 29-21. The Saints closed the first half on a 9-2 run to stay within 1 point at halftime as Larkin also struggled a bit from the field at 11 for 30.
"We could be better," Carter said, pointing to 15 turnovers. "But all in all when you win a game this big with all the conference championship implications, you'll take it."
Negron also grabbed 14 rebounds to pace the Royals' 46-32 advantage. McCullum had 8, and Jones and Brayden Royse both pulled down 7.
AJ Washington added 12 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocked shots for the Saints while Gentry finished with 7 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists.
"We got murdered on the boards," Woods said. "In a game like this you have to have loose balls, and you can't give second chance opportunities. Credit them for that.
"Unfortunately we played ourselves out of a conference title tonight but as I put on the board there's regionals ahead."