Another sectional title shot for Larkin
Trailing Rockford Auburn by 5 points at halftime wasn't what Larkin had in mind, but the Royals were not overly concerned.
They opened the second half with an 8-0 run to take their first lead and never gave it back in a 60-54 Class 4A sectional semifinal victory at Jacobs on Tuesday.
"We have a mature group," said Larkin senior Anthony Lynch, who scored 16 of his game-high 28 points in the second half. "We wanted to come out better and we did. That was big. We just kept fighting."
Larkin 6-foot-10 senior Jalen Shaw was limited in the first half. Guarded by 6-3 Auburn senior Terry Purifoy, a JUCO-bound defensive end who benches 240 pounds and squats 300, Shaw picked up two first-quarter fouls. In the second half, he scored 13 of his 19 points and grabbed 9 of his 13 rebounds.
"We really felt we took their best shot in the first half and we were only down 5 with Jalen in foul trouble and us missing layups," Larkin coach Deryn Carter said. "We thought we were in good shape as long as we responded with high energy."
The victory advances Larkin (22-8) to a sectional final for the second straight season. The Royals will play the winner of Wednesday's semifinal between Rockford Jefferson (25-6) and Dundee-Crown (17-12) on Friday at 7 p.m.
"Two times in a row and you're in the Sweet 16, that's special," Carter said. "That's special for where we were as a program just six years ago. I'm definitely proud of that."
Shaw sparked the 8-0 run to open the third quarter with a pair of buckets in the post.
Lynch then gave the Royals their first lead when Auburn saved a ball but inadvertently threw it to Lynch under the basket for an easy layup.
Lynch subsequently swiped the ball from Auburn on the perimeter, drove the length of the floor with a defender on his hip and threw down a dunk to put the Royals ahead 33-30 with 4:13 left in the third quarter.
"I actually was expecting a layup, but I just got up so high," he said. "I just turned my wrist and the rest is history."
Lynch was assessed a technical for taunting on the play but Larkin never trailed again, partly because the Royals won the rebounding battle 18-5 in the second half. It had been a near draw through two quarters.
"That turnaround really was the story of the game, that third quarter," said Auburn coach Bryan Ott, whose team finished 20-12. "We did a really poor job executing our stuff with the lead and they took advantage like they're supposed to because they're a good team. They took advantage of our miscues and scored it at the other end. It seemed like we just couldn't get over the hump after that.
"I credit Larkin. Excellent team that seems to be coming together at the right time. It's a big deal in a sectional to have to come from behind and get the W, so my hat is off to them."
Shaw and Lynch combined on a big play down the stretch. The Knights trailed by 3 points with 37 seconds left when Jamus Neal stole the inbound pass intended for Shaw. He sent the ball to Purifoy in the lane, but Shaw recovered, blocked the shot and sent an outlet pass ahead to Lynch, who finished with a layup to restore Larkin's 5-point lead.
Yahmir Muhammad led the Knights with 12 points, Purifoy finished with 11 points and 7 rebound and Jamus Neal contributed 10 points.