In perhaps the biggest game of his life, Charlotte Catholic guard Jack Larkin turned in one of the best performances in the school’s basketball history.
Larkin scored a game-high 19 points in Catholic’s 46-41 win against North Mecklenburg in the N.C. 4A Western Regional championship game.
But it was his defense against 6-foot-3 North Meck star guard Davion Mintz, as much as anything, that sent the Cougars to their first state championship game in boys’ basketball.
Charlotte Catholic (31-1) will face Cary (32-1) in Saturday’s N.C. 4A final in Chapel Hill.
“What can you say about 19 points and holding quite possibly the best talent in the state to eight points,” Catholic coach Mike King said. “He did a great job.”
Larkin, at 6-1, is one of nine seniors on Catholic’s roster. He said he wasn’t intimidated about guarding Mintz, a Creighton recruit who topped 40 points twice this season and averaged almost 21 points.
“That really didn’t scare me at all,” said Larkin, who also had six rebounds and two steals. “I’ve guarded the best player (on the other team) since sophomore year. The coaches here trust me to guard the best players.”
In pre-game warmups, North Meck appeared to struggle with its outside shooting. The Vikings (27-3) didn’t improve once the game tipped off. They made three of 15 shots in the first quarter and were 6-for-21 in the first half. The Vikings shot 30 percent from the floor, often missing open jump shots.
North Meck trailed 8-1 to start the game and never got into its running game, which usually creates easy scoring opportunities.
“It was a little frustrating” Vikings senior Jaylen McManus said. “The calls and we’re not knocking down shots, missing layups and having a lot of mental breakdowns.”
Each time North Meck missed, Catholic seemed to clamp down harder, as coach Mike King urged the Cougars to “lock in, Red, lock in” when his team was on defense.
“We’re a transition team,” North Meck coach Duane Lewis said. “We didn’t get many opportunities throwing the ball up the sidelines and getting into space. They made it a half-court game.”
Mintz, normally reliable offensively, struggled, shooting 3-for-8 and 1-for-5 from 3-point range. He had eight rebounds, four assists and a steal, but couldn’t get his shot to fall.
“It looked like their goal was, ‘Hey man, let’s just keep him in front,’” Lewis said. “ When he went to his go-to move, the spin move, they had another guy running at him. (Larkin) did a great job. They all did.”
Larkin said he just wanted to be tough Saturday. The entire team did.
“I kept going at him,” Larkin said of defending Mintz. “I didn’t want to back down.”