Larkin coach Deryn Carter pointed to maturity as a primary reason his team overtook St. Charles East in the final two minutes and clinched the Upstate Eight River title outright with a 60-56 road win.
Larkin (18-6, 10-0) trailed by 3 with exactly two minutes to play after Nate Ortiz converted on the fast-break assist from Justin Hardy, capping an 8-0 run by St. Charles East (14-8, 5-5).
The Royals climbed within a point on senior guard Anthony Lynch's drive 20 seconds later, and they got the ball back when Lynch blocked a shot at the other end with 1:13 left.
Lynch then found Kindrel "Nomo" Morris open on the wing. The 5-foot-8 senior point guard splashed the go-ahead 3-pointer with 48 seconds left, and the Royals sank 5 of 8 free throws in the final minute to remain unblemished in the UEC River with homes games remaining against St. Charles North and Batavia.
"I'm just happy with the way we closed it out," Carter said. "We got down 3 and we didn't go for a hero 3-pointer. We chipped away, got a 2-point bucket, got a stop and then took the lead. We showed some maturity in the win for sure."
Carter was pleased to see Morris take and make another big shot late in a game. Morris hit the game-winning shot last Saturday at Batavia with seconds left.
"Nomo is so unselfish that at times his unselfishness hurts us," his coach said. "We're like, 'Hey, you've got to shoot that jump shot.' Then he goes 3 for 4 (from 3-point range) today. He shoots like that. In practice he carries teams. So, I think he's going to understand that that was big tonight and that was big at Batavia."
The Saints shot 23 of 50 from the field and limited their turnovers to 11, but the offense wasn't crisp. Coach Patrick Woods pointed to a lack of ball movement. He said his statisticians counted 190 passes between Saints, their lowest total in a loss this season.
"Overall, we did not move the ball," said Woods, whose team had won four straight. "I don't know if it's Larkin's defense or our bad offense, but we didn't do what we normally do. Hence, we only scored 56 points. You don't win a lot of games scoring 56 points."
Saints star Justin Hardy was limited to 15 points, partly by the effort of Larkin reserve forward Max Wiskirchen. The senior entered the game with 3:44 left in the first quarter when 6-10 senior Jalen Shaw was taken out for the rest of the half due to foul trouble. Wiskirchen and the Royals held Hardy to a lone second-quarter field goal.
"I was just trying to stay in front of him and contest his shot," Wiskirchen said. "I guarded him last year and kind of did the same thing. I wanted to follow up and let coach know if he needed me to do something I can do it."
Senior Zach Robinson led the Saints with 18 points, including four 3-pointers in 6 attempts.
Lynch finished with a game-high 23 points to go with 5 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and a block. Shaw scored 9 of his 11 points and grabbed all 6 of his rebounds in the second half for Larkin.