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Linfield Christian boys basketball team turns up the pressure against Aquinas

Linfield Christian boys basketball team turns up the pressure against Aquinas

  • Host Linfield Christian’s Luke Bohmer, left, and Aquinas’ Edward Kelly try to control a loose ball in an Ambassador League boys basketball game, with the winner taking sole possession of first place in the league standings, in Temecula on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. Linfield Christian defeats Aquinas much 68-50. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Host Linfield Christian’s Shepard Cope, left, falls while trying to gain control of the ball against Aquinas’ Edward Kelly in an Ambassador League boys basketball game, with the winner taking sole possession of first place in the league standings, in Temecula on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. Linfield Christian defeats Aquinas 68- 50. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Linfield Christian fans get loud on the Temecula host team’s 68-50 victory against Aquinas in an Ambassador League boys basketball game, with the winner taking sole possession of first place in the league standings, on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Aquinas’ Timothy Akporabare, center, tumbles during an Ambassador League boys basketball game against host Linfield Christian in Temecula on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. Linfield Christian defeats visitors 68-50. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Host Linfield Christian’s Shepard Cope, fourth from left, gains posession of the ball against Aquinas in an Ambassador League boys basketball game in Temecula on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. The host team wins 68-50. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • A prayer kicks off the Ambassador League boys basketball game between host Linfield Christian and Aquinas in Temecula on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Linfield Christian’s Ryder Silva reacts after the host team defeats Aquinas 68-50 in an Ambassador League boys basketball game in Temecula on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Host Linfield Christian’s Shepard Cope hangs on to the ball against Aquinas in an Ambassador League boys basketball game in Temecula on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. The host team wins 68-50. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Tension flairs between host Linfield Christian’s Shepard Cope, left, and an Aquinas’ player in an Ambassador League boys basketball game in Temecula on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. Teammate Michael McNair, gently restrains Cope. The host team wins 68-50. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

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TEMECULA — The Linfield Christian boys basketball team enjoys getting teams out of their comfort zone.

The Lions dialed up their defensive intensity Wednesday evening, using a trapping defense to create 30 turnovers in an Ambassador League showdown against Aquinas. That pressure helped Linfield Christian walk away with a 68-50 victory and sole possession of first place in the Ambassador League standings.

The most impressive stat: Aquinas had more turnovers (19) than shot attempts (18) in the opening half.

“We want to make it difficult for teams to get set up on offense,” Linfield Christian coach Waheed Mitchell said. “We want to fly around and try to dictate the pace of every game. These guys enjoy playing at a fast tempo.”

Aquinas scored the first basket of the game, but Linfield Christian (17-2, 7-0 in league) quickly put together a 10-0 run to take control. Damian Ruiz and Mike McNair each scored five points during that early run, and that duo would continue to be a thorn in the side of Aquinas throughout the opening half.

Despite 14 turnovers in the first 11 minutes, Aquinas (13-5, 6-1) only trailed by six points early in the second quarter. But McNair and Ruiz combined for 19 points in the quarter to extend Linfield Christian’s lead to 40-25 at halftime. Ruiz scored 17 points in the half, and McNair added 15 more for the Lions.

“I think we found a good rhythm early, and we just kept pushing it until the end of the game,” Ruiz said.

Aquinas cleaned things up a bit during the second half, but the Falcons were unable to put together a sustained run to cut into the deficit. Linfield Christian drained four consecutive 3-pointers — two by freshman Julius Brower and one each by Ruiz and McNair — to extend the lead to 56-29 midway through the third quarter.

“We don’t like to dribble to much when we are on offense, so we just try to keep on moving around and passing the ball until a good shot is there,” McNair said. “It always feels great to get those open looks.”

Ruiz and McNair had 24 and 23 points, respectively, and Brower added a career-high 16 points. The trio combined to sink 10 3-pointers in the game. Ruiz also finished with a team-high seven rebounds.

Both teams captured CIF Southern Section championships last season, but Aquinas knocked off Linfield Christian twice in league play last year. That provided the Lions with plenty of motivation Wednesday.

“I was excited because I have been looking forward to playing this game for a while now,” McNair said. “The lights weren’t too bright for me tonight. I came to show out, and I’m glad we got a big win tonight.”

Keishmer Foster did his best to keep Aquinas in the game, with 10 points in each half, but he was the only Aquinas player to hit double figures. James Otieno had eight points and a game-high 10 rebounds.

The teams will square off again February 1 at Aquinas.


Press Enterprise