Gunn narrowly defeats boys’ basketball in huge upset

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Senior small forward Matt Corrigan defends against a Titan guard in a home game against Gunn on Saturday. The Vikings narrowly lost to a buzzer beater, 31-33. According to senior point guard Max Bonnstetter, the tough loss served as motivation for the team to continue to improve. “I’m proud of my team,” Bonnstetter said. “But we’re taking this [loss] and we’re really gonna remember this and use it as motivation.”

In a crosstown battle, the Palo Alto High School boys’ basketball team (6-2) suffered a last-second defeat to the Gunn Titans (5-4), 31-33, ending a nearly six-year Viking victory streak in the rivalry Saturday night at home.

Although the Vikings  — playing short because of a few key positive Covid-19 diagnoses — led for the majority of the game, the Titans came back in the last five seconds with a buzzer-beater lay-up from senior power forward Rogan Gibbons, putting Gunn over the edge to seize the win.

“It’s just that much more disappointing knowing that they won on a game-winner, but also just that it didn’t have to be in his [Gibbons] hands if we had handled what we were supposed to at the beginning,” Viking senior point guard Sebastian Chancellor said.

Even though the game was non-league, the Paly-Gunn rivalry has been an annual tradition that has made it one of the most anticipated games of the season. Paly has historically beaten Gunn, with Paly’s last defeat against Gunn coming from the 2015-2016 season. 

Coming into the game, the Vikings were seeded in the DeAnza division while the Titans were seeded in the lower league, the El Camino division.

According to Gibbons, the Titans recognized that Paly was favored and knew they would have to fight hard for a win. 

“Our mindset was really: We’re the underdogs – nobody’s really expecting us to win because we’re lower-seeded,” Gibbons said. “We’re in a lower division, so we came into the stadium and we wanted to just prove them wrong.”

According to Viking senior shooting guard Max Bonnstetter, the team approached the game with caution despite the advantage.

“I know how hungry Gunn is and I know how bad they wanted to beat us,” Bonnstetter said. “So all of us were definitely expecting a hard-fought game especially since a couple of players on our team right now have COVID and we’re not fully healthy right now.”

The first quarter was filled with action, with the Vikings winning the tipoff and senior small forward Matt Corrigan immediately making a layup for 2 points. The Vikings continued their momentum with three more layups by Chancellor and senior center Lucas Black. However, the Titans came back with a few layups and a three-pointer, ending the quarter down, 10-7. 

According to Chancellor, the Vikings’ advantage in the first quarter came from their ability to stop the Titans’ offense.

“Our team has been pretty locked in defensively, literally the whole year,” Chancellor said.

The Titans got an early foothold in the second quarter with a three-pointer, and the Vikings quickly responded by a layup from Corrigan. Gunn continued their momentum with a jump shot which tied the game, 12-12. The Vikings and Titans were neck and neck, but Gunn drew a foul, allowing Paly to score two points from free throws, ending the quarter 17-14.

Chancellor said the Vikings could have changed their offense to score more throughout the game.

“We need to be able to better adapt to what’s working, [and] what’s not working — turning a broken play into a successful play,” Chancellor said.

In the third quarter, Chancellor widened the Vikings’ narrow lead by scoring a layup and a free throw 20 seconds into the quarter. However, the Titans slowly caught up, with senior Jack Hakemen making a three-pointer and two free throws. The Titans created a lot of scoring opportunities off of steals during the third quarter, which ended 26-24.

According to head coach Jeff Lamere, the Vikings’ reputation motivates other teams to play hard and meet Paly’s energy.

“Our guys have to understand that every team we compete against, they’re looking to knock us off,” LaMere said. “And so you have to have an extra edge every time you step on the court.”

The fourth quarter came down to the wire, with both teams responding with fast drives and putting up shots to keep the score close. Bonnstetter pump-faked the ball before taking a smooth shot to get a basket and established the largest lead of the half, 29-24. However, Gunn immediately responded with a three from Gibbons and, after another lay-up from Bonnstetter, drew a foul with two minutes left to tie the game for the first time since the first quarter, 31-31. 

The Vikings were then forced into a drastic situation with a minute left on the clock and the score tied, and the team called a timeout. The team then managed to maintain possession and get a shot up, but the ball was turned over after a defensive rebound from the Titans, leading to Gibbons driving the ball to Paly’s basket and scoring the heavily contested reverse-lay up with 3 seconds left, ending the game 31-33. 

“Gunn played great defense and then at the end of the game number 32 [Gibbons] made a heck of a play,” LaMere said. “That was a great drive and a great finish.”

Despite the tough loss, Bonnstetter said he believes there are lessons to be learned for the team. 

“We all took this the same way, we’re all bummed out,” Bonnstetter said. “I just think that after such a tough loss, with such a rival, it’s only going to motivate us the rest of the season to just work that much harder in practice and fix the things that we have to fix to be more successful.”

The Vikings will play Homestead next at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Homestead.