Larkin puts away Rockford East in 2nd half
There's an old saying that revenge is a dish best served cold.
Cold was the word that best described Rockford East's offense during the first 12 ½ minutes of the second half, as Larkin (30-3) used a 29-9 surge to build a commanding 59-35 lead on its way to a convincing 75-59 Class 4A sectional semifinal victory over the E-Rabs (24-10) Tuesday night in Huntley.
Relying on a swarming man-to-man defense, the Royals limited the E-Rabs to 3-of-13 shooting in the third quarter while outscoring them 18-6, turning a 30-26 halftime advantage into a more comfortable 48-32 bulge.
"I thought our defense broke down and they took advantage of it a couple times," said Royals coach Deryn Carter, whose team suffered a 59-56 loss to Rockford East last November. "They hit six threes in the first half. It was uncharacteristic of our team to give up that many threes in a game -- yet alone in a half.
"We told our guys to be more fundamental defensively. You have to give it to the kids -- they're still hungry. You can feel it in practice."
After Rockford East closed the deficit to 30-28 early in the third quarter, the Royals went on a 16-2 run that featured 6 points from Jamarion Stubbs (11 points, 4 rebounds), and 4 points apiece from Damari Wheeler-Thomas (game-high 30 points, 3 steals) and Dontrell Maxie (10 points, game-high 16 rebounds).
"We just knew by bringing the energy and enthusiasm and locking up on defense, we were going to be fine," said Wheeler-Thomas.
Fernando Perez chipped in with 20 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocked shots, joining fellow seniors Maxie, Stubbs, and Wheeler-Thomas for the Royals' first 69 points of the contest.
"Usually, it's Damari (Wheeler-Thomas) scoring in the fourth quarter, or I'm scoring in the fourth quarter, but since it was all of us -- I felt like we just didn't want to lose," said Perez.
"It's not 1 on 5 or 2 on 5 -- it's all of us. We all feel a responsibility to try and contribute at a high level."
"They didn't get the chance last year," Carter said. "None of these seniors got it last year. It was unfortunate but they're making up for lost time."
With the win, the Royals advance to Friday's 7 p.m. sectional championship against the winner of Wednesday night's Rockford Auburn-DeKalb sectional semifinal.
"We get to practice tomorrow," said Carter. "We're in the Sweet 16. There haven't been many teams in Larkin history that have made it this far so we're proud of them."
"It will be a big opportunity for us," said Wheeler-Thomas.
Jemere Jefferson and Matthew Hoarde paced Rockford East with 22 and 18 points, respectively.