On one side was La Verne Damien coach Mike LeDuc, with 901 basketball victories. He helped develop Tracy Murray and Casey Jacobson. On the other side was coach Dave Kleckner of Etiwanda, known for teaching great man-to-man defense and the mentor for Darren Collison and Jordan McLaughlin.
It was no ordinary prep basketball game Tuesday night. LeDuc versus Kleckner was worth the price of admission. And the game lived up to the hype — it went into overtime.
Etiwanda (22-1), the No. 2 team in Southern California behind unbeaten Torrance Bishop Montgomery, held on for a 69-67 victory.
Kessler Edwards, a Pepperdine-bound senior, scored 24 points for Etiwanda, including a one-handed dunk in overtime. Krystian Wilson had 16 points and Dylan Gaines had 10, including a basket with 3.6 seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime.
Damien (19-4) trailed by as many as 13 points until rallying in the second half. Cameron Shelton, who finished with 24 points before fouling out in overtime, made a three-point basket with 13 seconds left in regulation for a two-point lead until Gaines raced toward the basket and scored.
“We knew coming in it was going to be a battle,” Kleckner said. “They shoot the ball so well and play with a lot of pride. The turnovers and careless plays offensively were very frustrating.”
Damien trailed by seven points at halftime but went on a 16-4 run behind freshman Malik Thomas, who scored all 13 of his points in the second half.
There was one consistent player throughout, and that was Edwards. Whether rebounding, playing defense or scoring from inside and outside, the 6-foot-7 Edwards was the player Kleckner always could count on.
“He always has his head in the game,” Kleckner said.
With the playoffs beginning next month, Etiwanda is certain to be one of the top teams in the Southern Section Open Division. For years, Kleckner has taught his players to be fundamentally sound on defense, and this season’s veteran team represents Etiwanda at its best.
“They play ridiculous defense,” LeDuc said.
Kleckner resigned as Etiwanda’s coach in June, then changed his mind when a possible replacement fell through. The Eagles have an 18-0 junior varsity team, so the talent is flowing very well.
And don’t forget about Damien, either. The Spartans forced numerous turnovers in the second half. Damien is 3-2 in the Baseline League and Etiwanda is 5-0. There will be only eight teams in the Open Division this season instead of 16.
There are lots of equal teams after Bishop Montgomery and Etiwanda, but Tuesday night, Damien showed it can hang, too.