St. Charles North couldn't do anything to stop Larkin from winning the Upstate Eight River crown Friday night, but the North Stars did have a say in whether it would be an undefeated championship or not.
Thanks to 17 points and 7 rebounds from Zach Ludwig, Kyle King scoring 14 points despite constant foul trouble, Brendan Dal Degan's 11 points and a stellar effort from their bench, the North Stars denied the Royals an undefeated Upstate Eight River season with a 71-57 victory in Elgin.
That certainly was one goal for St. Charles North (15-10, 8-3), and another was avenging a 51-50 loss to Larkin in the first meeting that the Royals' Anthony Lynch won with a layup in the final seconds.
"We've been thinking of that (loss) all week," Ludwig said. "We felt the last one slipped away and we didn't want that to happen again. We put a lot of hard work into this and we really wanted to get this one. We feel like we're the best team in the conference. We wanted to prove it."
Ludwig didn't get any argument from Royals coach Deryn Carter, even though the Royals have already clinched the title.
With both teams in the St. Charles North regional in two weeks, there's a chance they could meet a third time.
"There's no question right now they are the better team," Carter said. "We have two weeks and a couple games to get better and try to beat them in the regional title if we get there."
On Friday, Larkin (18-8, 10-1) took its only lead early, scoring the first four points. After Cade Callaghan drove baseline, scored and was fouled to put the North Stars ahead 9-7, they never trailed again.
They did it even though King, their leading scorer, spent much more time on the bench than the court. He picked up his second foul with 3:49 left in the first quarter, his third with 7:05 remaining in the second quarter, and his fourth with 4:46 left in the third.
King didn't re-enter the game until 3:13 remained in the game. He was very effective in his limited time on the court -- just over 11 minutes total -- with his 14 points coming on 5-of-6 shooting.
And the North Stars got a lift from their bench, especially Luke Scheffers (8 points) and Tyler Nubin (6 points, 5 rebounds).
"Everyone stepped up big," Ludwig said. "The whole bench gave us good minutes. Coaches said we wanted to send a statement win and I think that's exactly what it does."
Ludwig knocked down a jumper to put the North Stars up 16-9 after the first quarter, and DalDegan drilled a last-second 3-pointer to send the North Stars to halftime ahead 31-22. The Royals hurt themselves by hitting just 4 of 14 free throws in the first half; they finished 11-27.
"It's mental more than anything," Carter said. "It was horrendous tonight.
"As bad as we were from the free-throw line, we were worse defensively. That's as bad as we've played defensively. We got our butts kicked."
Larkin rallied from 9 points down in the first meeting to beat the North Stars. The Royals didn't get any closer than 6 in the second half on a 3 from Pierre Black that made it 46-40.
Two free throws from Ludwig, a spin move by Nubin against 6-foot-10 Jalen Shaw, a long jumper by Erik Larson and two more free throws from Scheffers stretched the margin to 55-42 with 5:13 remaining, and the game never got tight down the stretch.
"They are tired of playing really well and getting beat at the end," said North Stars coach Tom Poulin, whose team has lost heartbreakers to Larkin, Geneva and St. Charles East. "We're 5 points away from being undefeated in conference. We're as good as anybody."
Lynch led all scorers with 21 points and grabbed 9 rebounds. Shaw added 18 points and 8 rebounds.
The Saints shot 51 percent (25 of 49) while Larkin made 21 of 51 shots (41.1 percent).
"We've been through some heat, some heartbreaking losses and we're still coming out and playing with the best teams around," Poulin said. "Our kids were ready to go tonight. We had to adjust and overcome. I really feel our bench stepped up, and we pulled away at the end instead of letting them hang around."