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Damari Wheeler-Thomas scores 23 points to help Larkin hold off East Aurora’s upset bid

Larkin’s only loss to date was to Rockford East in the first week of the season.

Larkin’s Damari Wheeler-Thomas (10) controls the ball as the Royals play East Aurora.
Larkin’s Damari Wheeler-Thomas (10) controls the ball as the Royals play East Aurora.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

It’s hard to believe, but there are only a handful of senior guards in the area signed with Division I schools. Chicago and the suburbs are at a historic low when it comes to talented, dynamic guards.

That gives Larkin and North Dakota State-bound Damari Wheeler-Thomas a tremendous advantage in almost every game on the schedule.

Royals coach Deryn Carter wasn’t shy about reminding the officials that he had the only star on the court Tuesday in Aurora.

‘‘No one can stop No. 10 [Wheeler-Thomas] from getting into the paint,’’ Carter yelled at the officials in the first half.

‘‘He’s the most athletic player in the state,’’ he said in the second.

Wheeler-Thomas scored 23 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in Larkin’s 65-58 victory against East Aurora.

‘‘I hear him yelling that stuff,’’ Wheeler-Thomas said. ‘‘It’s funny, but he has a point.’’

The Royals (15-1, 6-0 Upstate Eight) needed every bit of Wheeler-Thomas’ talent to survive a spirited upset bid from the Tomcats (8-4, 4-1).

East Aurora led by nine points early in the third quarter. Tomcats senior Jullian Acosta was a terror, wreaking havoc all over the court. He finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds, five steals and three blocks.

‘‘At first, [East Aurora’s intensity] came as a shock,’’ Larkin sophomore Andrew Blakley said. ‘‘But we made some adjustments and came out and got the win.’’

Blakley scored 10 of his 17 points in the Royals’ 21-2 run that closed the third quarter. The Tomcats got as close as two points on a basket by junior JJ Acosta with 43 seconds left, but Larkin shot 8-for-8 from the free-throw line from then on to seal the victory.

‘‘The league is a little top-heavy now, so it was a very important game,’’ Carter said. ‘‘Those guys play so hard. Fortunately, we made enough plays to get it done.’’

Wheeler-Thomas helped lead the Royals to the title at Jacobs’ Hinkle Holiday Classic last week. They knocked off Loyola in the semifinals and Barrington in the championship game.

‘‘My confidence is at an all-time high right now,’’ Wheeler-Thomas said.

Larkin’s only loss was to Rockford East in the first week of the season.

‘‘[Wheeler-Thomas] looks like a Division I-bound [player] playing high school basketball,’’ Carter said. ‘‘He’s just so physical, and he’s phenomenal defensively. Today he added rebounding. He’s just a big-time leader. He impacts the game in so many ways.’’

Fernando Perez, a 6-4 senior, added 17 points and six rebounds for the Royals, who played without starting guard Jamarion Stubbs.

‘‘[Perez] has been playing well,’’ Carter said. ‘‘He’s probably one of the most unheralded guys around. There are a lot of guys like that because of COVID. And we had three or four guys play today that didn’t play meaningful minutes in the holiday tournament, and they did awesome.’’

Sophomore CJ Savage added 12 points and five rebounds and JJ Acosta eight points, five rebounds and three blocks for East Aurora.

Next up for the Tomcats is their historic rivalry game Saturday against West Aurora.

Watch the final minute of Larkin at East Aurora: