Glenbard West puts away Larkin in 2nd half to earn state berth
Any accomplishment comes with a bit of adversity.
Not many people at Monday's Class 4A DeKalb supersectional gave Larkin a chance against top-ranked Glenbard West. Ahead by just three points at the halftime break, Hilltoppers senior Bobby Durkin knew his team needed a spark.
As the final seconds ticked off the third quarter clock, Durkin got a defensive rebound, took a few dribbles and let it fly from just beyond half court.
The buzzer sounded and his shot hit the bottom of the net to steal all momentum back for Glenbard West as it cruised to a 60-34 victory to advance to Friday's Class 4A state semifinals.
"That's the kind of shot you throw up in the backyard with your buddies," said Durkin, who scored 10 of his 14 points after halftime. "We mess around with those situations and take those kinds of shots in practice, but to have it come up and to go in [during] a real game was a super cool experience."
That 3-pointer turned a three-point halftime lead for Glenbard West into a 14-point advantage. The Hilltoppers outscored Larkin, 15-4, in the third quarter, punctuated by Durkin's buzzer beater.
Glenbard West (35-1) then scored the game's next 10 points to cap a 15-0 run and put the game out of reach and book the program's first trip to the state tournament in Champaign.
"I think that shot just kills any momentum for [Larkin] going into the fourth quarter," Glenbard West coach Jason Opoka said. "It was a massive shot and we call him 'Fieldhouse Bobby' for a reason."
"We still hadn't quite pulled away at that point, so hitting a shot like that was huge," said Glenbard West senior Braden Huff, who led all Hilltoppers with 15 points. "I think our emotions almost got the best of us and the whole bench almost ran over to [Bobby]. Coach had to yell at us to get back on the bench, but it was a huge shot and gave us a lot of momentum going into the fourth quarter."
Huff and Larkin's Damari Wheeler-Thomas had a back-and-forth battle throughout Monday's first half. Neither missed a shot from the field, combining for a perfect 10-for-10 shooting.
Wheeler-Thomas, who led Larkin to a program record 30 wins, drew high praise from both his coach and Opoka after what was his final game as a member of the Royals (31-4).
"Absolutely a top of the line competitor," Opoka said of Wheeler-Thomas, who led all scorers with 20 points on 8-for-10 shooting overall. "North Dakota State got an absolute steal of a player. He's a motor, can handle it, can facilitate, and is a great on-the-ball defender. Our game plan was for whoever he was guarding, to get the ball out of their hands."
"There is no better guard in the senior class in the state," Larkin coach Deryn Carter said of Wheeler-Thomas. "It doesn't matter ... point guard [shooting] guard ... I wouldn't pick any of them before I would pick Damari."
A different game plan after halftime allowed Glenbard West to force it inside to the 6-foot-11 Gonzaga commit Huff, which opened up a number of things for its offense. The Hilltoppers also forced 18 turnovers on the defensive end, which they turned into 21 points in the other direction.
After Durkin's half-court buzzer beater, Larkin never got closer than 22 points in its season-ending loss.
Glenbard West will take on Bolingbrook in Friday's 4A state semifinals. Barrington and Whitney Young will play the night's first semifinal matchup at 2:30 p.m., with Glenbard West and Bolingbrook to follow.
"We just have to continue to stay focused on ourselves," Durkin said. "It's a great feeling to win this one, but the job's not done. We know what the ultimate goal is and that's two more wins. We're going to enjoy this one [tonight] and get ready for our next one and just continue to take it one game at a time."