West Aurora's Salter plays big vs. Larkin
Hezekiah "Hezzy" Salter is accustomed to playing against bigger opponents for the West Aurora boys basketball team.
That's because the 6-foot-2, 195-pound senior -- an all-Upstate Eight Conference running back last fall -- possesses the athleticism to play bigger than he is.
When he matches up against opponents in the post his own size or smaller, he enjoys games like Wednesday, when he scored a season-high 23 points and grabbed 6 rebounds in a 66-56 UEC win at Larkin, a team with no starters taller than 6-2.
"They were more my size," Salter said. "I definitely felt like I had an advantage down low."
West Aurora (21-4, 14-0) and Larkin (10-15, 7-7) were tied at 15 apiece after one quarter as the teams each splashed three 3-pointers.
Then Blackhawks coach Brian Johnson ordered the ball inside to Salter, who had not scored in the opening period.
"Coach told us to start playing inside to Hezzy because he was just manhandling people," West Aurora point guard Traevon Brown said.
Salter scored 6 points in the second quarter, 8 in the third and 9 in the fourth to keep the Royals at bay. He made 9 of 14 shots, including 3 putbacks that fueled a 30-18 rebounding advantage.
"He did the same thing in the first game," Larkin coach Deryn Carter said of Salter's 16-point performance in the Blackhawks' 67-57 win in Aurora on Jan. 8. "He's just such a great athlete and he finishes well around the rim. He got us in foul trouble and made free throws."
Larkin gave the UEC leaders a tough time, though. The Royals were within 28-24 at halftime and trimmed an 11-point deficit after three quarters to 47-42 with six minutes remaining, thanks to consecutive 3-pointers from Pierre Black. The senior sank 4-of-9 from long range on the way to 13 points.
Salter answered immediately at the other end with an old-fashioned three-point play. In the next 90 seconds he scored twice more -- including a breakaway dunk that staked West Aurora to a 12-point lead.
"Larkin does a great job of playing within themselves," Johnson said. "They play within their roles, they attack, they kick, they hit the open guy. And when you can't make shots and you're giving up long rebounds and scrambling on defense, it's a recipe for bad things. We just tried to calm it down a little bit and get it in the post a little bit more."
Freshman point guard Damari Wheeler-Thomas scored a team-high 14 points to go with 3 assists and junior Jashon Johnson-Neals added 13 points for Larkin.
Brown scored 13 points for the Blackhawks, who have won two straight games and 12 of 13.
"We're definitely coming together more as a team and trusting each other," Salter said. "We're definitely picking up on those little things we were lacking at the beginning."