The way Larkin coach Deryn Carter saw it, Friday's game against visiting Geneva "had reached a tipping point."
Carter's Royals pressured coach Phil Ralston's Vikings defensively the entire game, hounding them up the court, along the perimeter, whatever was necessary to keep Geneva from executing half-court offense the way it likes.
The Vikings weathered the pressure well enough to take a 1-point lead on sophomore Loudon Volbrecht's transition layup with 6:08 left in the fourth quarter. Then the Royals ratcheted their defense up a notch higher.
Larkin began trapping on the perimeter and "running guys at guys," as Carter put it. The resulting chaos caused a couple of Geneva turnovers and 3 missed shots in a short span, and Larkin guard Derrick Streety capitalized. The three-year varsity guard scored 8 points in a decisive 10-0 spurt that helped the Royals pull away for a 67-53 victory in the Upstate Eight River.
"Defense is where we thrive," said Streety, who finished with 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting, 3 of 4 from 3-point range. "As soon as the defense gets going it creates offense for us right away."
The victory meant more history for Larkin, which won its eighth straight to improve to 22-3. The two-time Upstate Eight River champions finished 12-0 in conference play, marking the first undefeated title in the program's 51-year existence.
"Our goal was just to be conference champs, but to win the conference championship and be undefeated in conference is huge," said senior guard Kendale McCullum, who finished with 11 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists despite missing three straight practices with a sore knee."We made history again. It feels good."
The loss snapped a 6-game winning streak for Geneva (19-5, 7-4), which won the rebounding battle 25-23 but committed 14 turnovers to Larkin's 9.
"We just didn't value our possessions very well, especially in that fourth quarter," Ralston said. "I'll take half-court shots over some of the passes we made in the game. You might stand a chance of making a half-court shot even though it's a low-percentage shot.
"And some of the passes we made, not meeting the pass, not cutting hard to get open, not setting very good picks ... lots of guys won't set many picks. When you go up against the kind of pressure Larkin gives, you're not doing your teammates any favors if you're doing those things. Their pressure got to us. We have to learn from this"
Larkin led 14-13 after a quarter as Drew Jones scored 5 of his 7 points. Geneva surged ahead in the second quarter, helped by a pair of 3-pointers from junior Nate Navigato, who finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Geneva led 28-20, but Larkin scored the last 6 points of the first half and the first 7 points of the second half to take a 33-28 lead.
The Vikings got 27 points off the bench from Pace Temple (15) and Volbrecht (12). Geneva concludes UEC River play next Friday at St. Charles North.
Freshman Christian Negron registered 10 points and 10 rebounds and senior guard Taylor Boley sank a pair of 3-pointers and finished with 8 points for Larkin, which faces North Chicago at the Kaneland Shootout at 6 p.m.