Both Larkin and St. Charles North entered Friday night's Upstate Eight River tilt without a conference loss, and both did everything they could to stay that way.
The lead changed hands four times in the final 30 seconds -- and nearly a fifth -- when Brendan Dal Degan's 25-footer hit off the back rim at the buzzer.
Larkin senior Anthony Lynch was the difference, scoring 21 of his career-high 30 points in the second half of the Royals' 51-50 victory.
That included 6 points in the final 53 seconds, capped with a coast-to-coast layup with 2 seconds to go and his team down a point after Zach Ludwig had given the North Stars a 50-49 lead with 2 free throws with :6.8 remaining.
"I just wanted to get a quick bucket," Lynch said. "If they stop me I was going to pull up. If they didn't I was going all the way. That's the type of team we are, we keep fighting no matter what."
No. 3 Larkin (9-4, 5-0) had to fight from behind nearly all night including a 35-23 deficit in the third quarter after one of Erik Larson's three 3-pointers.
The Royals turned up the defensive pressure behind Kindrel Morris, yet still trailed 39-32 after three quarters.
No. 7 St. Charles North (9-6, 3-1) -- playing without starting forward Cade Callaghan (concussion) and top reserve Tyler Nubin (football combine in Texas) -- also saw Ludwig go to the bench with four fouls for most of the fourth quarter and leading scorer Kyle King sit late in the third with three fouls and a twisted left ankle after an awkward fall following a layup.
King came back and finished the game, scoring the first basket of the fourth quarter. Down 41-32 with five minutes left, Pierre Black sank a 3-pointer to start Larkin's comeback, and Lynch and Morris scored transition layups to bring the Royals within 43-41.
King drove and kicked out to Larson for a corner 3 and a 46-41 lead with 3:10 left, but the Royals kept pressuring. Jalen Shaw scored, then came up with a steal and pass ahead to Morris for a layup to trim North's lead to 46-45 with 2:06 remaining.
King hit 2 free throws for a 3-point cushion only to see Lynch's drive bring the Royals back within 48-47. After North missed a 1-and-1 with 33 seconds left, Lynch's tip-in gave the Royals a 49-48 lead -- their first since early in the second quarter.
"At shootaround I said Anthony is going to have to have a special night because I knew how they were going to hound Jalen and he did," Larkin coach Deryn Carter said. "He had a special night. He looked like what he is, one of the best players in the state."
Larkin had no timeouts left after Ludwig's free throw gave North the lead with 6 seconds remaining. Lynch took the inbounds pass and drove right through what had been a stifling North Star defense most of the night.
"He got a head steam," King said. "We didn't load up. Our coaches talk all the time about loading up the side the ball is coming down and of course that's the one play we didn't. He just drove all the way down. I was there, I should have stepped in but it was kind of tough."
Shaw, Larkin's 6-foot-10 center, sat for the first four minutes after being sick for Thursday's practice. He hit a baseline jumper to tie the score at 13 after one quarter, then the North Stars held Larkin to 3 points in the second quarter to take a 20-16 halftime lead.
Dal Degan opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer, and Larson's steal and layup moments later forced a Carter timeout with the North Stars in control up 27-16.
The Royals also came from double-digits down in the third quarter to beat St. Charles East.
"We just bring the ball down one side of the floor we're easy to guard," Carter said of the first half. "We moved the ball a lot better in that second half. Very proud of our guys how they responded to a lot of adversity. Huge win."
Shaw finished with 7 points, 10 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocked shots.
King and Larson each scored 17 points for the North Stars, and King grabbed 10 rebounds helping North to a 29-21 edge. They shot 46.3 percent (19-41) from the field to Larkin's 44.1 percent (19-43), and the Royals also overcame an 11-for-22 night at the free-throw line.
"It's tough when you play better and you control the game and for 28 minutes you execute your defensive game plan and hold a team like that to 51 points and you pretty much hand them the basketball game in a short spell there," said North Stars coach Tom Poulin, who second-guessed himself for not calling a timeout after Ludwig's free throw to set his defense.
"I'd rather he (Lynch) shoot free throws than a layup. You can't let the kid get from one end line to the rim. I think for 28 minutes we were a better basketball team. For whatever reason in that 4-minute stretch we got sped up and made some poor decisions."