HOLLADAY — Heading into their first round matchup against the Olympus Titans, it had been 1,449 days since the Mountain View Bruins boys basketball team had last played in a postseason game, 1,451 days since they’d won one.
Convert those days into years and it had been all but four years since any Mountain View player had played postseason basketball, meaning every single Bruin was making their state tournament debut against the Titans.
They could have been happy to have just made it. They could have been overwhelmed and in over the head against an extremely experienced Olympus team. They could have been all of the above, really.
Instead, led by seniors Ben Mella and Tai White, the No. 18-seeded Bruins upset the No. 15-seeded Titans 63-58 at Olympus High School on Wednesday night.
“This is the first playoff for this group of seniors,” Mountain View head coach Shawn Faux said. “They have not been in a playoff game. For them to come in and do what we needed to do, to do what we did against a very good team, we handled it well.”
Mella finished with a team-high 23 points, while White added 16. Olympus was led by Zach Alder, who scored a game-high 26 points, including 21 from seven 3-pointers.
Alder was one of two significant challenges posed by the Titans — the other was a full court press — and it was the Bruins’ adjustments to those tests that defined the game and ultimately led them to victory.
The challenge of Alder came early on, after Mountain View started the game with a flurry. The Bruins took an 8-2 lead in the opening minutes, powered by Mella and White, and for a moment the visitors appeared primed to run away with it.
Then Alder hit 3-pointer after 3-pointer — he finished the first quarter with three 3s, while Nathaniel Lowe chipped in two — almost single handedly keeping the Titans in the game. The first quarter ended with the teams tied at 19 points apiece and the Bruins appeared to have no answer for the outside shooting of Olympus.
Except, as it turns out, they did. From the second quarter on, until late in the fourth quarter when Alder hit three more 3s while leading a Titans rally attempt, Mountain View was stout with its perimeter defense. In the second quarter Olympus mustered only one made 3-pointer and it was the same in the third.
“We knew that all five of their shooters could shoot the ball. The adjustment was pretty simple, don’t allow space,” said Faux. “Close the gap, get up onto them and make them put the ball on the ground. Rely on your buddy’s on the help side, or backside, if they go by you. That applied especially to No. 1 (Alder). He absolutely got warm and we said ‘We have to take it out of his hands.’ We told the boys to get up and pressure him, help a little less off him and make someone else make the play. I think we did a great job of executing it.”
Mella had the unenviable task of guarding Alder and after struggling early —“He got mad at himself,” Faux said — he became the Bruins’ most valuable player.
“He went hard after it and took that responsibility,” said Faux. “He made adjustments and that is what we needed. He is a senior and I have five of them on here. Among other things, we needed to find out which one of them was going to step up. Tonight it was Ben.”
The whole team was forced to step up in the fourth quarter after Olympus rallied from a double-digit deficit to pull within seven. The Titans utilized a full court press which sparked the run and unnerved the Bruins at first, but preparation paid off in the end.
“We saw it on film and when they do it they run something we are very familiar with,” said Faux. “I thought they (Olympus) did a great job executing it. A couple of times they caught us off guard and we had to scramble. The boys made the right reads. We were able to break it and get easy buckets with that.”
The last of which came from Mella, with less than a minute remaining that all but put the game away.
“I challenged them,” said Faux. “We put a little sign up that said, ‘Do you want it?’ and we told them, ‘If you want it go get it.’ That is what they did.”