PEORIA -- For the second night in a row, a quick scoring burst by the opponent did in Larkin's boys basketball team.
Trailing the Royals 15-11 just three minutes into the second quarter, Evanston went on an 8-0 spurt and never looked back, eventually defeating Larkin 61-49 in the third-place game of the Class 4A state tournament at Carver Arena.
"We took some uncharacteristically difficult shots during that run and (Evanston) was able to get out and score in transition," said Royals coach Deryn Carter, the 1998 Larkin grad who led the program to its first state final tournament and the first state trophy for a boys team from Elgin since 1955 in this, his ninth year as the Royals' head coach.
"That run changed things."
Evanston (27-6) took its first lead at 17-15 on a basket by senior Matt Hall, who finished with 14 points and 16 rebounds, with 2:52 left in the first half. With 6-foot-10 Larkin senior Jalen Shaw already on the bench with two fouls, the Wildkits were able to take over inside and by halftime they led 24-18, an advantage they stretched to an insurmountable 45-29 by the end of the third quarter.
"I didn't think our intensity, at times defensively to start the game out, was where it needed to be," said Evanston coach Mike Ellis, whose team forced Larkin into 16 turnovers. "We were able to make that a factor and get some runs. I thought our communication was a lot better. We were seeing the court better, making some plays at both ends of the floor. I thought it was a well-balanced game for us."
As they did on Friday when they trailed Belleville West by 18 points before cutting it to 7 late in the fourth quarter Larkin (24-10) again refused to give up. The Royals cut the Wildkits' lead to 58-49 on a basket by senior Anthony Lynch (21 points) but with just 38 seconds to go there wasn't enough time to draw closer.
"I think they sped us up a little, especially the start of that third quarter," said Carter. "We battled foul trouble again tonight, maybe if we're not battling that foul trouble it's a little different. I know Shaw had 2 points and zero rebounds in the first half and he finished with 19 and 7, so he could have played a heck of a 32-minute game but unfortunately he was in foul trouble and we weren't able to get it done. But he's come a long way since his freshman year and that's a testament to how hard he was willing to work."
Junior Lance Jones led Evanston with 15 points. The Wildkits hit 25 of 47 from the field compared to Larkin's 21 of 54. The Wildkits also won the rebounding battle 34-31.
"It's tough but it wasn't as tough as I thought it would be," said Carter of getting his team prepared for a third place game. "We were ready to play, we just didn't play well."
The experience of making it to state, despite the two losses here, wasn't lost on the players or Carter.
"It's been a great experience," said senior Kindrel "Nomo" Morris. "A once-in-a-lifetime experience."
"From the Larkin grad side," Carter said, "it's just been unbelievable all the people who have reached out, whether it's an email, a text message or through second or third sources about how many people are proud and they're making the city proud and they're still bleeding Royal blue. To be a part of that is awesome. I'm a part of it as a coach, but I'm also part of it as a community member. I know we did some special stuff for the city of Elgin."