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McMINNVILLE, Ore. – Warner Pacific scored 40 of its 86 points in the paint to out-gun Linfield 86-66 in the Wildcats’ home opener Tuesday evening inside Ted Wilson Gymnasium.
Linfield (0-3) shot 41.9 percent from the field, including 50 percent through the first 20 minutes, but too many turnovers (19) led to easy baskets for the Knights (5-1). WPC’s Stephen Harris shot 9-for-13 from the field and 8-for-9 from the charity stripe to earn a game-high 26 points. He also led all players in the rebounding column, corralling 11 missed attempts.
A quick start had the Wildcats up 16-10 with 14:42 left on the clock. Matt Kalbfleisch and Cory Hendryx got the home team started with back-to-back buckets that gave Linfield a five-point lead just 30 seconds after the opening tip.
Fueled by a string of turnovers caused by an aggressive zone defense, the Knights got right back into the game, seizing a 23-20 advantage. After another couple of lead changes and a tie at 27-all, the ‘Cats pushed the spread back to five points. About 2 ½ minutes later, a tip-in by Zac Compton gave Warner Pacific a lead that it would not surrender the rest of the night.
Leading by six at the break, 44-38, the Knights scored the first four points of the opening half to claim a double-digit advantage.
Linfield showed life, highlighted by a Zach Meikle dunk that got the home team to within five, but another surge by Warner Pacific ran the score to 58-45. The scoring gap swelled to as many as 23 points after a pair of Harris free throws with 7:32 to play.
Andrew Batiuk finished with 16 points, despite playing the majority of the second period with four fouls. He picked up his fourth just three minutes after the break while trying to tie up the ball on a missed Wildcat 3-pointer.
Hendryx and Meikle each finished with 13 points. Hendryx grabbed five rebounds and made several memorable hustle plays on defense, while Meikle added three steals.
In addition to winning the points and rebounding (38-29) battles, the Knights got to the line twice as many times as the Wildcats, knocking down 17 of 22 free throws compared to just 6 of 11 for Linfield.
COMING UP: The Wildcats have some time to enjoy and recover from their Thanksgiving dinners before playing host to Hope International Saturday night inside Ted Wilson Gymnasium. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m.