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Elgin's Arie Williams trips while driving to the basket as Larkin's Quentin Ruff (left) and Drew Jones defend earlier this season. | Michael Jarecki ~ For Sun-Times Media
When it comes to the current state of the boys basketball rivalry between Elgin and Larkin, there is plenty of respect to go around.
The Royals think highly of what the Maroons have accomplished in recent years and are quick to recognize the talents of senior standout Arie Williams.
But as is the case in any rivalry, the spoils go to the victor, and for now Elgin (10-10, 2-6 Upstate Eight River) is looking up at No. 21 Larkin (19-3, 8-2) with much reverence as the teams prepare for their third meeting this season Friday night at Chesbrough Field House.
“Friday night is a measuring stick for us,” Elgin coach Mike Sitter said. “We’ve lost to Larkin twice this season and they’re the elite team in our area. We want to measure ourselves against the best, and we’ll see how we measure up against Larkin.”
Few will forget any time soon the first meeting between the teams back on Dec. 12 when the host Royals outlasted the Maroons 76-73 in the first double-overtime game between the longtime rivals. Larkin followed that with a 60-51 victory against Elgin on Dec. 29 in the championship game of the Elgin Holiday Tournament.
The first two outcomes represented a shift in the balance of power in a rivalry that has long been dominated by the Maroons. Elgin owns a 79-42 lead in the all-time series, and a victory for the Royals on Friday would give them three straight wins against their crosstown foe for the first time since 2004.
Larkin enters February tied for first place in the UEC River standings with St. Charles East, and a win against the Maroons coupled with a victory at Geneva on Feb. 8 would net the Royals no worse than a share of their first league title since 2006.
Elgin won the UEC River title each of the past two years, but it can only play the role of spoiler down the stretch this season. Of more concern for the Maroons is simply finding some momentum in what has been an up-and-down campaign.
“I feel like Larkin is a big hump that we haven’t been able to get over yet,” Williams said. “We really should have won that first game, but we had a lot of mistakes on our end. In the second game we played well, but (Larkin) just outplayed us that game.
“In this third game we have to get over that hump, which would be a really big momentum booster for the rest of the season.”
Williams will certainly be the primary focus for Larkin’s defense after he lit up the Royals for 39 points and 28 points in their first two meetings. Williams is the area’s scoring leader this season with 22.5 points per game.
Lately the Maroons have seen what Sitter calls gimmick defenses designed to slow down Williams. The approach seemed to work for York and Geneva, which both held the 5-foot-9 standout to 10 points in recent weeks.
“Arie is tough to deal with once or twice, and three times is a nightmare,” Larkin coach Deryn Carter said. “So we’ll work on some things to limit him.”
The task is even more arduous for Elgin’s defense against a deep Larkin team that boasts six players averaging at least 5.5 points.
Senior guards Quantice Hunter and Quentin Ruff and junior guards Kendale McCullum and Derrick Streety are the top scoring threats for the Royals, but junior forwards Drew Jones and Brayden Royse and sophomore center Daniel McFadden are also capable of shouldering a heavy load.
“We’re always looking forward to the Elgin/Larkin game,” McCullum said. “The only way we can win this is if we contain Arie like he was the last few games. We also need to get the ball in the post and score over (Elgin’s) little guys.”
Said Sitter: “We don’t put a lot of scouting report on the board when we play Larkin because you’ve got to treat almost every player as if he’s a threat. You don’t really sag off anybody because on any given night somebody can light you up for 15 or 20. You’ve just got to be prepared for everybody on the court.”