MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Everything that should undo the Palo Alto Vikings hasn’t seemed to stop them.
Adapting to a third coach in three years? No problem. Facing a Mountain View team that finally had both of its top players healthy? Bring it on. Starting point guard out with a fractured elbow? Just another bump in the road. An early 16-point lead reduced to four? Child’s play.
All of those obstacles and a surprisingly large Wednesday night crowd wouldn’t undo the Vikings as they stayed perfect in SCVAL De Anza play with a 58-45 win at Mountain View.
Calm and collected, Palo Alto (16-4, 8-0 SCVAL De Anza) got the job done on Wednesday night without a major highlight-reel play, but with solid fundamentals and incredible determination to stay composed under pressure. A Navin Lo 3-pointer got the Spartans to within four at 41-37 as the third quarter ended, and Jailen Daniel-Dalton made two free throws to answer a Ryan Purpur putback a minute into the fourth, but the Vikings weren’t rattled. Matt Marzano, who was a perfect 10-for-10 at the line, hit two free throws to reopen a six-point advantage a minute later, and Andrew Li, the smallest man on the floor, drew a charge. Jamir Shepard followed with one of two free throws to make it 46-39 with 5:03 left, and even though the Vikings wouldn’t score for the next three minutes, they’d manage to keep the 24th-ranked Spartans off the board as well, winning a tie-up with the possession arrow and then playing a giant game of keepaway with back-to-back offensive rebounds.
“We don’t have a ton of size, but we have a lot of guys who play hard,” head coach Jeff LaMere said of his team’s efforts on the glass. “We talk about how when we go into a game, we want to measure our effort.”
Those offensive rebounds by Shepard and Purpur were a great measure of that effort, and it meant that until Daniel-Dalton answered a Shepard basket with two of his 15 points with 1:49 left, Mountain View (13-8, 4-5) was held away from chipping into the lead. Out of the timeout, the 11th-ranked Vikings would finally manage to break the Spartan press, something they had largely struggled to do without point guard Conner Lusk, and Shepard scored in transition to make it a nine-point game.
On a night where Palo Alto went 20-for-23 at the line, Li knocked down five in the final minutes to reopen the double-digit lead and close things out. He’d finish with 14, Shepard scored 13 and Marzano led all scorers with 18.
Li also hit a pair of early threes as the visitors got out to a 20-4 advantage, shocking the home crowd.
“It’s fun to have a player where you have to dial him back as opposed to have him go faster or have him play harder,” LaMere said.
The Spartans would finally get into gear with a 7-0 run as Lo hit the first of his two 3-pointers to cut it to 26-19, but another Li 3-pointer and a Marzano basket off the glass would make it an 11-point lead again.
“We started off really poor,” Mountain View head coach Kevin Mack said. “We played a little scared in the first quarter, which didn’t make sense to me. Once we settled in, we were fine. We do a good job playing about 20-25 minutes, but in our league, you’re not gonna win a lot when you don’t play a full game.”
Ryan Bahar scored four of his seven points in the third, getting a friendly roll to cut it to 37-34, and after four Marzano free throws, the Spartan sixth man would erupt on Lo’s corner three.
“It’s great to have the students out here like this,” Mack said. “The success the program’s had from top to bottom with all three levels has really helped get the student body out here.”
Marzano would close the third with a block to keep the lead at four, and he’d help finish the game off at the line.
The Vikings will return to action on Friday night at the Peery Family Center against Homestead (12-9, 4-5). Mountain View is off Friday but will return to action next Wednesday on the road, also against the Mustangs.