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Neuqua Valley's Jabari Sandifer puts up a shot while being defended by Larkin's Brayden Royse on Friday in Naperville. | Mike Mantucca ~ For Sun-Times Media
Winning 25 of its first 27 games to start the season, Neuqua Valley has often shown its ability to go on spurts.
In its last tune-up before opening play as the No. 3 seed in the Class 4A Bolingbrook Sectional next week, Neuqua Valley opened the second half on a 20-4 run to help clear the way toward cruising to a 71-52 victory over Larkin on Friday night in Naperville.
In a meeting between the Upstate Eight’s two division winners and a week after getting a 63-53 win on the road over the Royals, Neuqua Valley (26-2) extended its winning streak to eight games by getting out on transition and playing tough, hard-nosed defense.
“Larkin is a really good team,” Neuqua Valley senior Jabari Sandifer said. “It was a tough game last week and we had to come back and do the same thing this week.
“So it was just we played hard. Pat (Kenny) and I played good. We had contributions from everybody. It was a good win. I was proud of the team.”
Sandifer, the newly-minted Upstate Eight Valley Player of the Year, had 20 points, while getting plenty of help from Kenny.
Getting off to a quick start with an eight-point effort in the first quarter, Kenny finished with a game-high 21 points to go along with pulling down seven rebounds.
“I think that we saw that they kind of came out small, so we wanted to make sure we tried to get it inside,” Kenny said. “It’s worked out good for me. I think that I was lucky to make my shots (Friday night).”
In a fast-paced first half that featured a multitude of runs from each team, the Wildcats’ 12-0 surge from the immediate end of the first quarter to about 2½ minutes into the second quarter, answering an 8-0 run from the Royals, gave them the breathing room they would need in taking the lead for good.
“It was (critical),” Larkin coach Deryn Carter said of the Wildcats’ surge to start the second quarter. “Even our runs, they weren’t the same as the runs we have when we’re successful. ... (The Wildcats) were beating us to loose balls. They were beating us to offensive rebounds.
“They beat us in every facet. They beat us in transition and we’re supposed to be the team that is good in transition. So they taught us some lessons tonight and it was pretty embarrassing.”
Trailing by as many as 21 points late in the third quarter, the Royals cut their deficit to 10 points but could get no closer than that the rest of the way.
Kendale McCullum and Quantice Hunter led Larkin (21-5) with 13 points apiece. The outcome marked the most lopsided defeated of the season for the Royals and the first time they’ve dropped back-to-back games all year.