Suburban high schools like Larkin don’t receive invitations to prestigious events like the Proviso West Holiday Tournament just due to random luck. It requires a star player, the type of high school athlete that fans will pay to see. For Larkin, that guy was high-flying Christian Negron.
When Negron, a Loyola recruit, went down with a season-ending injury before the season even began, it appeared Proviso West was saddled with a team that was destined to play in the opening round and then head to the consolation bracket. But that wasn’t the case on Tuesday in Hillside. The Royals stepped up to the moment and knocked off St. Joseph 64-58.
“We know [Negron] is why we are here,” Larkin junior Anthony Lynch said. “It just gives us a chip on our shoulder. We saw a St Joe’s player tweet something about how it would be an easy game. That just gave us extra motivation. They are not going to take us lightly. We did a good job of responding to that.”
Lynch, a transfer from South Elgin, scored a game-high 21 points.
“He has a chance to be a really good player,” Larkin coach Deryn Carter said. “He just needs to do it more often, he has it in him. Nobody works harder than he does.”
Larkin (6-5) is off to a slow start, which is understandable after the November shock of losing Negron.
“It was tough,” Carter said. “But we are trying to elevate the status of the program. You do that a couple different ways. This was a great team win, we are battling.”
Jalen Shaw, a 6-10 junior, played his best game of the season. He had 16 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks.
“[Shaw] was so disciplined and focused,” said Negron, who was on the bench with his team. “He showed up big. He has a really high ceiling. He’s just 16 and might still be growing.”
St. Joseph (5-5) opened up a 40-35 lead in the third quarter. Sophomore guard Marquise Walker, who finished with 20 points, drained four three-pointers in the quarter.
Larkin weathered the storm and opened the fourth quarter with a 9-2 run.
“We got into a rhythm,” Lynch said. “The defense translated into offense. We like getting up on people and forcing turnovers. We had some distractions in the beginning of the game but I think everyone contributed, all the role players stepped up.”
A pair of regular starters didn’t start for the Royals. Carter said it was for breaking team rules. While Larkin overcame distractions, St. Joseph seems to be drowning in them.
The Chargers are one of the most talented teams in the area, but are having significant chemistry issues. Their body language is bad and several players stopped running back to play defense late in the game. St. Joseph coach Gene Pingatore, who is closing in on 1,000 career victories, has a difficult challenge ahead.
Larkin will face the Uplift-Proviso West winner in the second round on Wednesday.
“This is what we have been working all summer for, to be ready for these big games, and I think we stepped up today,” Lynch said.Tags: Larkin, proviso west holiday tournament, St. Joseph