Opponents who underestimate the undermanned Larkin boys basketball team do so at their own risk, as St. Joseph learned Tuesday at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.
The Royals accepted a bid to the annual showcase before Loyola-bound star forward Christian Negron suffered a season-ending knee injury in September, but the remaining Royals showed the Chargers they are anything but leftover pushovers in a 64-58 opening-round victory in Hillside.
Junior guard Anthony Lynch scored 21 points, mostly in transition, and 6-10 junior Jalen Shaw contributed 16 points and 12 rebounds and 4 blocks to lift Larkin (6-5) to a win in its first action since Dec. 15.
"I think it gives us a chip on our shoulder," Lynch said of the way opponents view the Royals without Negron. "We saw a St. Joe's player tweet something on social media how it was going to be an easy game, but that just gave us extra motivation when we stepped onto the court."
St. Joseph (5-5) surged to a 40-35 lead with 1:33 left in the third quarter when sophomore Marquise Walker passed to Jason Towers for a fast-break, alley-oop dunk. That was preceded by a pair of Walker 3-pointers that fueled an 8-0 run.
Larkin responded with a 23-8 surge over the next seven minutes, including a game-changing 8-0 run that turned a 2-point deficit into a 6-point lead with 4:07 left in the game.
Shaw knotted things at 45-45 on a reverse layup. Lynch then delivered a fast-break bucket to put the Royals ahead for good with 5:58 to play. After Kindrel Morris split 2 free throws, Pierre Black sank a 3-pointer from the right corner to stake the Royals to a 51-45 lead with 4:07 remaining.
It was an impressive win for Larkin against a program two years removed from winning the Class 3A state title and one year removed from a Final Four appearance.
The Royals trailed 13-9 after a quarter, but the transition game came to life in the second quarter once guards Kindrel Morris and Kashmir Ivy entered the game. Both were held out for the first quarter for coming late to a practice.
Morris made up for lost time by dishing 5 assists. Ivy contributed 12 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Their efforts helped avenge a 59-52 overtime loss to St. Joseph at Proviso West a year ago.
"I can't even express how happy I am to win this game," Ivy said. "I've been waiting for this game since last year. This year we finally came and won."
Walker finished with 20 points and Jordan Boyd had 9 points and 12 rebounds for St. Joseph.
Larkin advances to a second-round game against Chicago Uplift on Wednesday at 4 p.m.