The Damien High boys basketball team looks different this season. The Spartans had to replace four key seniors from last year’s 24-win team.
However, one thing hasn’t changed – dominance in the Sierra Vista/Covina tournament.
The Spartans used a strong second-half surge to pull away from Adelanto, 85-73, in the championship game on Saturday night for their fifth straight Sierra Vista/Covina tournament title.
Damien (7-1) was led by sophomore guard Malik Thomas and senior guard Jarred Hyder. Thomas scored 29 points as he won tournament MVP honors. Hyder made the all-tournament team and scored 26 points.
“They played great,” said Damien head coach Mike LeDuc. “They’re fierce competitors They wanted to win and saw we weren’t playing very well and we tried to do some things to turn it around for us.”
The Spartans romped through the first four games of the tournament winning by an average of 52 points. But the Saints proved to be a worthy challenge. Adelanto jumped out to a 7-0 lead and then an 18-11 lead late in the first quarter.
“We didn’t shoot the ball very well,” LeDuc said.
Adelanto took a 30-23 lead midway through the second quarter. Hyder quickly nailed a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 30-26 before Damien switched to a half-court press defense. That proved effective as it triggered a 9-0 run for the Spartans to close out the half, giving them a 39-36 lead.
Damien forced Adelanto into several tough shots and forced three turnovers while in the half court press. The Adelanto guards were pressured shortly after crossing half court, making it difficult for them to run offensive sets.
The Spartans took their first lead of the game when Hyder grabbed a loose ball off a steal at half court then raced down for layup. He was fouled and made the shot. Hyder then connected on the free throw to give Damien a 37-36 lead with 35 seconds left in the second quarter. He also made two free throws to close out the first half.
“I think in the middle of and toward the end of the second quarter we started to think that we’re not playing very well and need to change our interest level,” LeDuc said. “We did and I think we played better.”
Damien led 51-47 in the third quarter before Thomas scored six of the team’s final eight points in the period to help Damien extend its lead to 59-50.
Thomas drained a 3 from the baseline midway through the fourth quarter to push Damien’s lead to 66-55. Adelanto cut the lead to nine when all-tournament player Vincent Rupert hit a 3. But Hyder’s back-to-back layups put Damien up by 13 at 70-57. The Spartans wouldn’t give up their double digit lead from that point on.
Adelanto head coach Kimo Brown had high-praise for Damien.
“My goal going into this tournament was to give my team a chance to play Damien,” Brown said. “(Damien) is so well-respected. That team is going to win a lot of games.”
Damien next Saturday will try to avenge its only loss of the season when the team travels to play Camarillo High. Damien lost 94-86 in overtime to Camarillo a little over two weeks ago in the Alemany Tournament.
“It’s going to be challenge to play on their home court,” LeDuc said. “But we should be up for that challenge.”