PALO ALTO, Calif. — Mountain View hit seven three-pointers to Palo Alto’s one and had 11 different players score in Wednesday night’s SCVAL De-Anza matchup, while just five players registered baskets for the Vikings.
Those five did more than enough, though. With Matthew Marzano scoring a game-high 21 and Ryan Purpur continuing to establish himself as a reliable everyday center, the Vikings rode their small but mighty core to a 55-42 win in a battle of defending CCS champions.
“With my height, I really had an advantage, and I’m just trying to do the best I can inside,” Purpur said after his 12 points and six rebounds.
Finding reliable scoring at the guard positions has been a struggle for the Vikings, who made just one 3-pointer in Wednesday’s win, but with Purpur’s presence inside, the hosts had no need to rely on long shots as they worked their way inside throughout methodical possessions, taking the shot clock down to single-digits but never panicking at the end of possessions.
“We’ve been a little bit offensively challenged this year,” head coach Jeff LaMere said. “Some of that is that our identity is defense, and we’re a grind-it-out team.”
It certainly as a grind on Wednesday at the Peery Center as the two teams played to a 22-22 halftime tie, with the referees going to the possession arrow four times to settle scrambles on the ground. Separation came in the second half for Palo Alto (10-4, 3-0 SCVAL De Anza) thanks to none other than Purpur and Marzano. The senior center got the opening basket of the second half and Marzano hit his team’s lone 3-pointer to answer one by Ryan Bahar to give the hosts a 29-25 lead.
Stopping Bahar, who led Mountain View (10-6, 1-3) with 11 points, was a key focus for the Vikings, who were well aware of the 6-foot-2 junior’s shooting ability but were able to focus on him with Jailen Daniel-Dalton, the lone returning starter from last year’s team, still out with a dislocated shoulder.
“He can really shoot, and he made some threes tonight where we were on him,” LaMere said.
Bahar knocked down his third and final 3-pointer late in the quarter but then got victimized on the final possession of the period as the Vikings saved a ball from going out of bounds off a miss, with Andrew Li ultimately securing it at the top of the arc. Though his 3-pointer missed, he drew just enough contact from Bahar for a foul to be called with 0.6 seconds left in the quarter, and he made all three of his free throws to give the home side a 38-32 lead.
“Andrew makes plays,” LaMere said. “He makes hustle plays and he makes big shots for us. Because he works so hard and he hustles, he puts himself in the right place.”
The diminutive Li also had a key play late in the first half with a steal and acrobatic up-and-under lay-in through traffic to give his team a 20-19 lead, part of an 8-2 run to close the half. The Spartans had gone up 19-14 with five straight points on a Nic Conrad putback and 3-pointer by sophomore Joey Peir, but Palo Alto got the next six, including a basket from football standout Jamir Shepard, making his first appearance since Dec. 21.
“With Jamir back, it gives us an additional offensive option,” LaMere said of the Fresno State-bound wide receiver, who was away from the team during winter break and reacclimated over the past two weeks.
MV would retake the lead on another three, this one by Yuval Hod, but, just as it would be at the end of the third quarter, the hosts got the final points on free throws. The Spartans had two fouls to give and used one with 5.3 seconds left, but fouled Conner Lusk on a shot with 1.7 left instead of addressing him away from the basket. Lusk, who made eight of his 10 free throw attempts to account for all of his points on the night, sank both. As a team, the Vikings shot 18-of-22 from the line.
“The end of the second quarter, we commit a foul when we’re up two and had a foul to give,” Mountain View head coach Kevin Mack said. “End of the third, we cut it to three and we foul a 3-point shooter with under a second left.”
Those sequences were clear turning points as the Vikings started both the third and fourth quarters strong, with Marzano scoring the opening basket of the fourth to put the hosts up eight. The Spartans would get it back to five on a basket from sophomore Joe Brown, who didn’t see the court in the first three periods, but back-to-back Marzano baskets, including a putback off a Lusk steal with 3:51 left, made it 46-37, and Shepard’s and-1 with two minutes left all but sealed the game.
“In all three of our league losses, it’s a similar situation,” Mack said. “We play hard, but when it comes to crunch time in the fourth quarter, we’re careless with the ball and we make mistakes.”
The Vikings may have only gotten points from five different players, but the efforts of Aidan Rausch are worth noting. The junior forward had a game-high eight rebounds and was part of the effort to slow Bahar.
While Mountain View sits at 1-3 in league play, Palo Alto is tied for first with Los Altos (14-1, 3-0). Both of Wednesday’s combatants will play their next games against Homestead, with Palo Alto heading on the road Friday and the Spartans hosting the Mustangs next Wednesday.