With his Los Altos High boys basketball team holding a precarious two-point lead in the final minute of Friday’s league opener at rival Mountain View, top scorer Brock Susko made a play from his knees that was as big as any he made on his feet.
Diving to the floor to corral a loose ball in the Spartans’ front court, the junior rose to his knees to rifle a pass to Jake Skaggs for a breakaway layup that put Los Altos up 49-45 with 45 seconds left.
“When I was first fighting for it on the ground, like near the 3-point line, I knew that I saw Jake run and that he was going to be there,” said Susko, who scored a game-high 18 points in his team’s 51-49 win. “So when I finally got the ball, I turned and then he was there.”
That play essentially sealed the victory. Yuval Hod split free throws on Mountain View’s next possession and Dom D’Augusta answered for Los Altos by sinking two foul shots with 17 seconds left. The five-point lead stood until Hod buried a baseline 3-pointer as time expired.
Defensive plays like the one made by Susko – among the Spartans’ 17 turnovers Friday – have been integral to the Eagles’ success this season, according to coach Trevor Naas.
“That’s what we’re about – defending and rebounding,” said Naas, whose squad has won nine games in a row and is 12-1 overall. “Those are the things that we’re trying to be consistent with. I thought the fourth quarter our defense improved a lot compared to the third quarter, and that was big for us.”
Los Altos, up nine at halftime, was outscored 18-11 in the third. Mountain View’s Jailen Daniel-Dalton scored nine of his 15 points in the quarter, capped by a drive that just beat the buzzer. The senior, who missed most of the preseason with a shoulder injury and is wearing a brace, opened the fourth with back-to-back buckets (drive and pull-up jumper). Andrew Lau’s layin pushed the Spartans’ lead to 41-37 with 5:47 remaining.
That’s as good as it would get for Mountain View. Nico D’Augusta nailed a 3 on the Eagles’ next possession, igniting a 12-4 run that put Los Altos back in control. Double teamed, Daniel-Dalton got off just one more shot (an errant jumper)in the final 5 1/2 minutes, a span in which the Spartans committed five turnovers.
“Things were going good, but then people started being passive when they started doubling and whatnot,” Daniel-Dalton said. “One (versus) five isn’t ever going to win a game. I’m not discrediting anyone on the team; I’m just saying in late-game situations we have to be more of a unit. ... We’re not the Mountain View Jailen team, we’re the Mountain View Spartans.”
Daniel-Dalton, the lone returning starter from last year’s Central Coast Section championship team, cited the Spartans’ youth and inexperience as the main cause – as did coach Kevin Mack.
“We’re a really young team and we’re starting to learn, and hopefully we’ll learn from these mistakes,” said Mack, whose team bounced back the next night to beat Carlmont 38-34 and is now 9-4 overall. “We play really hard, but our decision-making sometimes is what hurts us, and Los Altos took advantage of that tonight.”
The Eagles scored 17 points off turnovers, including a breakaway dunk by Dom D’Augusta in the third quarter that electrified the throng of Los Altos fans.
Like Mountain View, the Eagles roster is heavy on underclassmen and light on varsity-level experience.
“We’re young, and we’ve already gotten a lot better this season,” said Susko, who drained a pair of first-quarter 3s. “Hopefully we keep on doing so.”
Naas has also liked what he’s seen from this young group.
“I think they definitely have been gaining confidence as the season’s gone on,” he said. “And tonight I’m just really proud of the way they responded.”
The D’Augusta brothers – sophomore Nico and junior Dom – combined for 17 points in the second half and finished the game with 13 and 10 points, respectively.
Ryan Bahar paced Mountain View with 17 points, despite missing most of the third quarter with a foot injury. Hod added 11 points.
Mack said Daniel-Dalton played his best game of the season, though that was little consolation to the 6-foot-5 forward.
“It’s just the (league) opener, but this is a big game,” he said. “It would have been a good win against our rivals on our home court.”
While Mack agreed, he also knows the SCVAL De Anza Division champion won’t be crowned until February.
“This game definitely doesn’t decide the league,” he said. “I think everyone’s going to take a couple losses. So hopefully we can bounce back and we can get them at their place at the end of the year.”