DeKALB — It was as uncharacteristic as it was unsatisfying for the Larkin Royals.
Mistakes, highlighted by 21 turnovers, led to Larkin’s downfall in a 71-63 loss to Rockford Jefferson in a Class 4A DeKalb sectional semifinal Wednesday, thereby ending the program’s best season since 2006.
“The turnovers were extremely disappointing,” Larkin coach Deryn Carter said. “We’ve got too good a group of guards for that ... I just don’t think tonight was our night.”
It wasn’t as though the Royals (23-6) were blown away by the J-Hawks (20-12). In fact, Larkin was still within a point of the lead after Quantice Hunter split 2 free throws with 2:46 left in the game.
Simply put, Jefferson was better in the post, stronger on the perimeter, and flat-out better down the stretch. Jefferson big men Jared Mayes and Antoine Pittman combined for 43 points.
It was a tough pill to swallow for Larkin. Though the Royals hadn’t been this far since the days of Dayvon Ellis and Carliss Henderson seven years ago, they weren’t quite ready for this ride to end, particularly senior starters Quantice Hunter and Quentin Ruff, team leaders who helped restore basketball pride to Elgin’s west side.
“The seniors did exactly what we asked them to do,” Carter said. “They left the program in a heckuva lot better shape than they found it. It’s going to be tough for the other guys to follow that. We’re proud of them.
“The unfortunate thing is we had a lot more goals to try to accomplish. The positive thing is we checked off a lot of things on our goal list.”
Hoops for Healing Thanksgiving tournament champions? Check.
Elgin holiday tournament champions? Check.
Upstate Eight River champions? Check.
The program’s first regional championship since the 2005-06 season? Mission accomplished.
“I’m proud of where we set the bar for the program” Ruff said. “I wish we could’ve went further, but I’m pretty proud of where we left it at. Is it was a pretty good year.”
“I feel blessed that we were able to change the program the way we did,” Hunter said. “Hopefully, they do even better next year.”
And make no mistake, the Royals do have a very bright future. Though Hunter and Ruff move on, starters Kendale McCullum, Drew Jones, and Brayden Royse and sixth man Derrick Streety all return next year alongside an assortment of talent from the sophomore team, not to mention athletic, 6-foot-9 prodigy Christian Negron, who will almost certainly become a member of the Larkin varsity as a freshman.
Considering the Larkin basketball program was wandering in the wilderness as recently as four years ago, that’s not a bad future to anticipate.
“We will definitely be back next year, but it’s going to be tough without ‘Q’ and ‘Tice in our offense,” McCullum said. “We’re going to have to change a few things with them gone so it’s going to be different.
“I think we learned that if we come out playing that way it’s going to affect us again next year. If we get here next year, this is how it’s going to be if we don’t rebound and we have a lot of turnovers. We will learn and we will get better. And maybe next time we won’t come up a little short.”
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