Winning the battle of tempo and defense, Larkin’s boys basketball team claimed its first conference title in seven years on Friday at Geneva.
Quentin Ruff’s 20 points led three Royals in double figures and Larkin’s full-court man-to-man defense forced 20 turnovers as the Royals earned the Upstate Eight Conference River Division title outright with a 72-52 victory.
Larkin, 0-10 in conference as recently as 2007-08, last won a then-unified Upstate Eight in 2005-06.
“It’s kind of symbolic,” said Larkin coach and graduate Deryn Carter. “I’ve been here four years, our staff’s been here four years together. These seniors have been here four years, so it’s almost culminating for their career.”
Given the quickness and athleticism of Larkin players such as Quantice Hunter, 10-point scorer Kendale McCullum and sixth-man Derrick Streety, at times it seemed Larkin (21-3, 10-2) used a 4-4-4 defensive set.
“Geneva’s more a half-court offense, so I feel like as we full-court pressured and made them move faster than what they usually do it really sped them up and that led to turnovers,” said Ruff, who made four 3-point baskets.
“I looked to gamble a couple of times and just play solid ‘D’ throughout,” said Hunter, who scored 15 points and had 4 first-half steals to McCullum’s 5 total. “But we knew when we were wearing them down a little bit to gamble.”
Fifth-year Geneva coach Phil Ralston, whose Vikings (16-7, 6-5) beat Larkin 61-56 on Jan. 19, took his first loss to Larkin. He liked the tempo of the first quarter, a 13-13 draw, but in spurts the game slowly got away.
“We told them that a lot of this is imposing your will on them like we did the first time we played them,” said Ralston, who in the half-court employed man-to-man defense, a 2-3 zone, a 2-1-2 trap and a 1-3 with a man on Hunter.
“And tonight they did the opposite to us,” said Ralston, led by Nate Navigato and Connor Chapman with 11 points apiece and Chris Parrilli with 10. “We just did not have the unity to make it happen collectively.”
An 8-4 Larkin run late in the second quarter gave the Royals a 33-24 halftime lead, but a 13-5 spurt opening the third quarter — capped by a Ruff putback off his own miss and a McCullum lane pullup — extended the lead to 46-29 midway through the third.
Geneva cut it to 52-40 after three quarters. The Vikings came within 9 twice early in the fourth, on a Mike Trimble three-point play and on a Chapman bucket from Parrilli’s pass.
Then Larkin’s defense kicked in again. An 11-0 run pushed the lead up to an insurmountable 65-45 with 3:20 to play.
“Losing a home game in conference is always tough but, I mean, we split (the series) with them,” said Geneva’s Chapman. “Just trying to build some momentum going into the playoffs.”Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.