Larkin boys basketball coach Deryn Carter got the close game he expected Saturday night against North Chicago.
The unexpected part was the way things happened down the stretch as the Royals (23-3) fought off the state’s sixth-ranked Class 3A Warhawks (20-4) 79-76 during Kaneland’s inaugural Day and Knight of Basketball in Maple Park.
Led by Kendale McCullum, Derrick Streety and Andrew Jones, Larkin began the second half with an 18-5 run that turned a 9-point halftime lead into a 21-point advantage at 56-35 midway through the third quarter.
Freshman forward Christian Negron (8 points) punctuated the surge with a highlight-reel 2-hand dunk via a picture-perfect feed off the glass from Streety (15 points, 5 assists).
North Chicago began to chip away at the deficit, trimming the margin to 15 at 61-46 after 3 quarters.
Larkin still led 67-57 with 3:26 remaining when the Warhawks put on an outside shooting clinic.
North Chicago connected on four 3-pointers during a 2-minute, 11-second stretch, including a long-range basket from the corner by Arnold Shead (15 points) that narrowed the Royals’ lead to 72-66 with 2 minutes left.
Jamero Shelton drained the Warhawks’ fifth 3-pointer of the fourth quarter to make it 74-69 with 46 seconds remaining.
Things got even more interesting down the stretch as 2 free throws from Javairius Amos-Mays with 4.6 seconds left cut the Royals’ lead to 77-76.
After Taylor Boley (9 points) calmly hit a pair of foul shots to stretch the lead to 79-76 with 3.3 seconds remaining, the Warhawks’ comeback bid ended when JayQuan McCloud’s 40-footer fell short at the buzzer.
“We made a big run and they made a big run,” said Carter. “Theirs was at the end (of the game) so it did make it a little scary but I think when it’s all said and done what was supposed to happen happened. It was a tight game there at the end.”
McCullum, who scored 16 of his game-high 25 points in the second half on 5-of-6 shooting from the floor, felt his team relied on some history to hold off the hard-charging Warhawks.
“It was pretty scary but we’ve been in situations like this earlier in the season so we know how to keep our composure,” said McCullum. “Any good team like that is going to make a run.”
“We may have taken our foot off the gas a little bit and I think it hurt us,” said Carter. “They made some big shots.”
Jones added 15 points and a team-leading 8 rebounds as the Royals extended their winning streak to 9 against a formidable foe.
“They’re a top team in any sectional,” Carter said of North Chicago. “I know they’re 3A but I don’t care. If we want to do some of the things we want to do, we have to play teams like that.
“I’m proud of our guys,” the coach added. “It was a big weekend with two huge wins.”
Murray State-bound McCloud paced North Chicago with 19 points.