Larkin falls behind big early but doesn't give up
PEORIA -- Belleville West follows a pattern.
Dazzle the opponent with a first-half barrage, get up big and watch the other team fold like a road map.
Except Larkin didn't follow the pattern in Friday's 64-53 Class 4A semifinal loss.
Larkin (24-9) fell behind 9-0 and trailed by 18 with 1:30 left in the first half, but the Royals climbed back into it against the mighty Maroons, a 31-2 team blew out its previous five playoff opponents by a 26-point average.
Senior Jalen Shaw started the second half by using his 6-foot-10 frame to grab one of his 10 rebounds and score a putback basket for the Royals.
Then junior sniper Pierre Black splashed a 3-pointer.
Senior guard Anthony Lynch started finding ways to score without having his shot blocked by Maroons junior phenom EJ Liddell. Lynch would go on to finish with a team-best 16 points on 8-of-16 shooting.
Black sank another 3-pointer. Then another. And then another on his way to a 15-point night on 5-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc.
Suddenly, Larkin was within 60-53 with 1:34 left, and the full-throated Larkin Blue Crew cheering section was chanting "It's not over. It's not over," with the volume only eight fan busses worth of teenagers can.
The Royals, in turn, fed off the energy they were getting from the crowd.
"It was great to see that we have people behind us and it's not only our team and our coaches that's behind us," said senior guard Kindrel Morris, who had 5 points and 5 assists. "It's the whole city behind us."
However, that was as close as the Royals came to completing the comeback. They will face Evanston (26-6) for third place on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
In the end, Belleville West and Liddell were just better. Liddell is a special player. For instance: the previous record for blocked shots in a Class 4A finals game was 4. He matched that in the first three minutes of the second half alone when he swatted 4 attempts, including one by Shaw, to ignite an 8-0 run. That surge mattered a great deal later considering Larkin's fourth-quarter push.
"Give Larkin credit," Belleville West coach Joe Muniz said. "We got up on them. Lately, teams have been folding when we get up 18. They battled and found a way to get it down to (seven), but we just made the clutch plays to prevail and extend the game."
Though Liddell (24 points) and 6-5 forward Keith Randolph (18 points) were too much to overcome, Larkin coach Deryn Carter appreciated how hard his players tried.
"I can't say enough about our guys," Carter said. "They fought, they fought, they fought. They represented the city well. They represented our program well. Only one team is really going to come out of here super happy tomorrow and we just happen to be not one of them.
"But it doesn't diminish what we've done over the year, for sure."