Larkin's late run beats Bartlett
Trailing Bartlett 51-46 with 3 ½ minutes remaining, Larkin's basketball team saved its best for last, relying on pressure defense to help fuel a 15-3 run that turned the game around Tuesday night.
The Royals (6-1, 2-0) rallied to win the Upstate Eight Conference contest, 63-58, in Elgin.
"I don't like to use the term, 'winning ugly,' especially against good teams, but I think we just grinded out a win," said Larkin coach Deryn Carter. "It was kind of what you would expect. I think they're (the Hawks) one of the best teams in the area, and I think we're one of the best teams in the area.
"It was a heck of a high school basketball game."
Senior guard Damari Wheeler-Thomas, who finished with a game-high 29 points, 7 steals, 4 rebounds and 3 assists, keyed the Royals' frenetic final 3-minute surge.
After assisting on Jamarion Stubbs' 3-point basket that cut the Hawks' lead to 51-49, Wheeler-Thomas sank a pair of free throws to tie it at 51-all.
A basket by Fernando Perez (13 points, 7 rebounds) put Larkin on top to stay at 53-51 with 1:58 remaining, and 10 seconds later, Wheeler-Thomas' steal and layup made it 55-51.
Bartlett center Conrad Luczynski converted a 3-point play to trim the Royals lead to 57-54 with 57 seconds left before Wheeler-Thomas added 5 free throws over the next 46 seconds to put the game away.
"We were locking in on their guards and just playing our game," said Wheeler-Thomas, who scored 21 second-half points, including 11 in the final quarter.
"I needed to be more aggressive for my team. It's fun bringing the defense. Everybody gets riled up -- I love it."
Carter also loved watching another signature performance from his standout guard.
"He's just a special kid who doesn't quit and just keeps grinding," the coach said of Wheeler-Thomas, who contributed 7 points, an assist, a steal and a blocked shot during his team's late comeback.
"You get used to it, but you don't stop appreciating. We're glad he's on our side."
Wheeler-Thomas' effort helped offset a 21-point night from Hawks guard Jacob Magnanao, and a 10-point, 21-rebound, 8-blocked shot performance from the 7-foot-3 Luczynski.
"That was just phenomenal defense," Hawks coach Jim Wolfsmith said of Wheeler-Thomas. "He got after it. He's not reaching too much -- he's just always in your way."
Bartlett led by as many as 11 points at 46-35 late in the third quarter before Larkin tallied 6 points in the final 5.2 seconds to draw within 46-41.
"I thought we did a good job of handling their pressure for 28 minutes," said Wolfsmith. "At the end of the third (quarter) and then in the fourth (quarter), we gave them that momentum."
Stubbs finished with 11 points, including a pair of second-half 3-pointers, while Jakob Blakley added 8 points and 6 boards for the Royals.
"It puts us one (game) ahead in the conference so it's a huge win," said Carter.