DeKALB -- Larkin coach Deryn Carter tends to repeat certain phrases when he gets really excited and his excitement level was off the charts after Tuesday's 53-46 victory over Benet Academy in the Class 4A NIU supersectional.
"What a game. What a game," he said walking off the court.
"It's a blessing. It's a blessing," he said seconds later of having the honor of guiding his alma mater to the state finals for the first time in five supersectional tries since 1971.
Larkin (24-8) knocked off state tournament savvy Benet (26-6) by playing a tremendous defensive game and by executing its offense to near perfection.
The Redwings packed it in defensively in the first half against 6-foot-10 Larkin senior Jalen Shaw and effectively limited him to 5 points on offense.
However, taking away one option opened another and Larkin made the Redwings pay. Benet's attention to the interior left holes on the perimeter and Larkin found Pierre Black open for 3-pointers on five occasions, mostly on penetration and kickouts by Kindrel Morris (4 assists) and Anthony Lynch. Black finished with a team-best 18 points on 5-of-11 shooting from 3-point range.
"I just felt good, man," Black said. "I felt it. I felt the arc and everything."
"As a staff we had a feeling that they were going to have to defend us the way they did and it was going to leave him open," Carter said. "They packed it in. They tried to give Jalen fits, they tried to give Anthony fits. Early on it hurt us. We had 5 or 6 turnovers in that first quarter. In the second and third quarter we really worked on penetrate and kick. He's big time. He's a big-time player and he made big-time shots." The victory was particularly satisfying for the Royals and their fans after some frustrating recent seasons. They entered the 2014 postseason 23-4 with a No. 1 seed in their subsectional, but a top player had to sit out the regional opener for a rules violation and they were upset in the first round.
Many thought Larkin had a shot to make a run at Peoria last season. Then star Christian Negron, now a freshman at Loyola University, tore his ACL two months before the season started.
Thus, breaking through for the program's first state trip this season is a pleasant surprise.
"I just couldn't believe it because from the beginning I never thought we would get here," said Shaw, who finished with 11 rebounds and 2 blocks. "But my teammates, and the courage that everyone has … everybody believed and we got where we are. Now, we have to keep going."
Larkin will face Belleville West in a state semifinal on Friday at Carver Arena at 5:30 p.m.
"I think a lot of people thought we were good this year, but I don't think anybody thought we could do this," Carter said. "This is just special. It's a testament to the program and the team.
"We did just enough as a group," he said. "We did just enough."