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Geneva's Nate Navigato drives by Larkin's Brayden Royse on Saturday in Elgin. | John Konstantaras~For Sun-Times Media
Geneva might not be the flashiest team around, but its ability to execute on both ends of the court makes it a dangerous opponent for even the most polished teams.
Larkin learned the lesson first hand Saturday night as its 11-game win streak came to an end with a 61-56 Upstate Eight River loss to the visiting Vikings in Elgin.
Geneva (14-4, 5-2) did all the little things right down the stretch, including a perfect 15-for-15 showing at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter as it moved into a tie with the Royals atop the UEC River standings. Sophomore Nate Navigato hit all three of his free throws in the fourth and finished with a team-high 19 points for the Vikings.
“We shoot a set of 10 free throws twice every day that we practice, so we work on free throws a lot,” Navigato said. “This feels really good. Now we’re tied (for first in the conference), so this is huge for us.”
Larkin (16-3, 6-2) played the entire first half without senior sharpshooter Quentin Ruff, who was anchored to the bench due to a violation of team rules. Ruff never found a rhythm once he checked in, going 0-for-7 from three-point range and finishing with one point one night after hitting six treys and scoring 20 in an 87-49 win against Streamwood.
The Royals were only 3-for-19 from beyond the arc as a team. Derrick Streety hit a jumper with his foot on the three-point line to pull Larkin within 57-56 with 30 seconds left, but Navigato hit a pair of free throws to push Geneva’s lead back to three with 22 seconds remaining and Ruff missed a three-pointer on the ensuing possession to seal his team’s fate.
“It’s tough to put a kid in who is used to playing all the time after not playing a whole half,” Larkin coach Deryn Carter said. “What (Ruff) did didn’t warrant a full game, so it was kind of a catch-22.”
Kendale McCullum almost single-handedly kept the Royals close as he finished with 24 points, seven rebounds, five steals and four assists. Quantice Hunter added 11 points and Streety had nine for Larkin, which suffered its first loss since Dec. 1.
“Execution is what got us beat,” Carter said. “(Geneva) executes better than we do on a night-to-night basis, and tonight it was two or three times what it should have been. Tonight showed our two weaknesses: Half-court execution and defensive rebounding.”
Navigato’s three-point play with 7:13 left in the fourth quarter put the Vikings ahead 43-40, and they never trailed the rest of the way. Geneva’s Cam Cook was 6-for-6 at the line in the fourth quarter and had 11 points.
Mike Trimble (eight points, 10 rebounds), Chris Parrilli (eight points) and Pace Temple (seven points) also had productive games for the Vikings, who looked sharp in their return from an eight-day break following a disappointing 59-37 loss at Batavia on Jan. 11.
“Larkin is one heck of a team, and we would count this as probably our best win of the season,” Geneva coach Phil Ralston said. “Especially after how we played last week against Batavia, it was nice to see the boys respond positively in this game.”
GENEVA 61, LARKIN 56
Geneva (14-4, 5-2)
Navigato 6 6-7 19, Cook 2 6-6 11, Trimble 4 0-0 8, Parrilli 1 6-6 8, Temple 2 2-2 7, Brown 1 2-2 4, Champan 2 0-2 4. Totals 18 22-25 61.
Larkin (16-3, 5-2)
McCullum 8 8-9 24, Hunter 3 2-3 11, Streety 4 1-2 9, Royse 3 0-0 6, Jones 2 1-2 5, Ruff 0 1-2 1. Totals 20 13-18 56.
Geneva 14 11 15 21 -- 61
Larkin 12 9 19 16 -- 56
Three-point goals -- Geneva: 3 (Cook, Navigato, Temple). Larkin: 3 (Hunter 3). Fouled out -- None.