Wheeler-Thomas scores 38, leads Larkin by Bartlett
Larkin senior standout Damari Wheeler-Thomas is highly regarded as a slashing guard who can take the ball to the basket or stop on a dime for a pullup jumper.
You can add potent 3-point shooter to his ever-growing repertoire.
Wheeler-Thomas scored a game-high 38 points, connecting on all 6 of his 3-point attempts, to help lift the Royals (19-2, 10-0) to a convincing 69-53 Upstate Eight Conference victory over host Bartlett (13-4, 7-2) Tuesday night.
"I told him after the game I was glad that I don't have to see him again -- unless it's in the supersectional," said Hawks coach Jim Wolfsmith. "If I have that, I'll be a very happy man to see him one more time.
"He's that kid. He's the most unguardable player in our conference."
After Bartlett grabbed an early 2-0 lead on a right-handed baby hook shot by 7-foot-3 senior center Conrad Luczynski (24 points, 16 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocked shots), Wheeler-Thomas answered with a 3-pointer from the wing.
The 6-foot-1 dynamo scored 11 of his points in the first quarter as the Royals took an 18-14 lead.
"I got hot early and just stayed with it," said Wheeler-Thomas. "It was me being aggressive and opening things up for the rest of us."
Larkin led 37-31 at halftime, as Wheeler-Thomas and Luczynski battled to an offensive standoff -- both players had 18 first-half points.
While the Hawks earned a 19-7 rebounding edge during the first 16 minutes, the Royals played turnover free basketball in the opening half.
"I thought we played well in the first half," said Wolfsmith.
Bartlett whittled a 10-point deficit to 44-40 on a scoop layup from Keegan Kunzer (6 points) with 2 minutes left in the third quarter.
Larkin, however, closed out the quarter with a 9-0 run to extend its lead to 53-40 heading into the final stanza.
Once again, Wheeler-Thomas was at the forefront, igniting the surge with a 3-pointer while adding a high arching shot over Luczynski, and closing the quarter with a driving layup while landing on his back near the side wall.
"The key was staying aggressive," said Wheeler-Thomas. "They (coaches) told me to stay aggressive through every quarter. I wanted to bring it from both ends for the team."
Wheeler-Thomas, who finished 13 of 15 from the field, drained two more 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, and capped the night with a burst to the basket for a layup in the final minute.
"Damari was special," said Larkin coach Deryn Carter. "He is what he is. I'm proud of him -- very happy for him and for our guys. It was a great team win."
Carter wasn't surprised by Wheeler-Thomas' outside shooting display.
"He can shoot it," said the coach. "He's as good a shooter as there is in the area. Is it his strength? Maybe not because of how quick and strong he is with the ball, but he can shoot it with anybody in the league."
Jamarion Stubbs and Fernando Perez added 10 points apiece for the Royals.
"We had a whole bunch of breakdowns in the second half," said Wolfsmith. "It showed us what we have to work on if we want to be a sectional-level team."