The city of Elgin experienced a changing of the guard in basketball terms Wednesday night after one of the greatest fights in the 120-game history of the Elgin-Larkin series.
Host Larkin, which had lost 5 straight games to Elgin and 8 straight when a 2009 forfeit is factored in, tied the Upstate Eight River contest with 4 points in the final 30 seconds of regulation and outscored the rival Maroons 11-8 in double overtime to win 76-73.
Larkin senior guard Quantice Hunter scored 6 of his career-high 32 points in the second overtime, including a 3-pointer with 1:07 left that put the Royals ahead to stay. Hunter's heroics offset a brilliant night by Elgin senior point guard Arie Williams, who finished with 8 3-pointers and a career-best 39 points.
"After (5) losses in a row, I was keying in on this one the most, my last time playing (Elgin) in this gym," Hunter said. "I really didn't want to lose to them in my gym. I just gave it all I've got and we came out with the win."
It was the first win against Elgin for fourth-year Royals coach Deryn Carter, who played for and graduated from Larkin in the late 1990s.
"Hopefully, they won't take this one away because this one was special," Carter said. "I know this rivalry really, really well and this was as good as any game I can remember. This was a special game, both teams. It was just special to be a part of it."
Hunter's double-overtime 3-pointer was followed by a turnover from Elgin (5-4, 1-2). It was the seventh in the two extra sessions for the Maroons and led to a Daniel McFadden basket and a 72-69 Larkin lead.
After Larkin guard Derrick Streety and Elgin's Williams each split 2 free throws, the Royals found Streety streaking ahead for a breakaway, which we converted for a layup and a 75-70 advantage with 21 seconds remaining.
Williams answered with his eighth 3-pointer to the groans of the Larkin cheering section with 13.7 seconds left. Elgin subsequently stole the inbounds pass. However, Malik Parham-Dunner's baseline attempt rolled off the rim and Hunter grabbed the defensive rebound.
Hunter was immediately fouled and split 2 free throws with 4.2 seconds left. Elgin grabbed the missed second attempt, but guard Kendale McCullum stole the ball from the Maroons in the backcourt as the final seconds ticked off, sending an unstoppable wave of blue-clad Larkin fans charging onto the floor to celebrate with the relieved, exhausted, triumphant Royals.
Larkin (8-2, 4-1) led 34-24 at halftime, thanks to 10 first-half points from Hunter and 6 points and 8 rebounds from McFadden. However, Elgin charged back in the third quarter.
The Maroons outscored the Royals 25-14 in the period via the 3-point shot. Williams sank a trio of long-range shots, while Eric Sedlack (11 points, 9 rebounds) and Kiko Mari each sank another. Mari's 3-pointer with 25 seconds left in the third quarter gave Elgin its first lead of the game, 49-48.
Elgin kept up the pace to start the final period as Williams and Parham-Dunner each completed drives to the basket to complete a 29-14 start to the second half.
A pair of Williams free throws put Elgin up 55-51 with 38.2 seconds left in regulation. However, McCullum sank a pair of free throws with 30 seconds left to get Larkin close. He would get them closer momentarily.
Elgin tried to inbound the ball to Williams against full-court Larkin pressure, but McCullum leapt to intercept the ball as Williams and guard Ryan Sitter switched.
"I was thinking don't let Arie get the ball, so when I saw Arie leave I just had to go help and not let him get the ball," McCullum said. "I cut in front of Sitter, anticipated it and got the ball."
McCullum fed the ball to a cutting Hunter, who scored a layup with 20 seconds left to tie the game. Sitter's ensuing 3-point attempt fell short and the game went to a first overtime, which Elgin survived despite committing 5 turnovers.
"We have to take care of the ball and hit free throws at the end if we want to win games," said Elgin coach Mike Sitter, whose team shot 9 of 15 from the free throw line compared to 11 of 22 for Larkin. "Nobody has blown us out the entire year. We're our biggest enemy right now, not the opponent on the scoreboard."
Larkin turned 3 of those Elgin turnovers into consecutive fast-break layups to take a 61-57 lead, capped by Quentin Ruff's steal, ahead to McCullum, who bounced a cross-court pass to Hunter for the layup. Larkin could have put the game away, but Hunter twice split 2 free throws.
Williams made Larkin pay for not sealing the game by hitting a jump-back 3-pointer from the right wing with 15 seconds left in the first OT. Williams scored 11 of Elgin's 18 points in the overtimes, but the Royals had too much in the second extra session.
"We've been in every game, we're just not closing out right now," Williams said. "It hurts every time. This one hurts the most, but I feel as we come back and go further down the year, I feel like we'll be ready. We'll be able to take it back."
The teams will meet again at Chesbrough Field House on Feb. 1.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.