PARKLAND, Wash. – Veteran guards James Conti and Andrew Earnest combined for 27 points to lead Pacific Lutheran to a 68-53 Northwest Conference men’s basketball victory over Linfield Friday evening at Olson Auditorium.
Decimated by 19 turnovers, 11 missed free throws and game-ending injuries to three starters, including NWC leading scorer Zach Anderson, the Wildcats (4-15, 2-8 NWC) were no match for the Lutes (9-9, 6-3), who remain very much alive in the conference playoff race, currently sitting in a three-way tie for third place.
Pacific Lutheran scored 17 points off turnovers in the first period alone to race out to a nine-point halftime advantage. Trailing 5-4 after a Wildcat layup by Zach Meikle, the Lutes rattled off eight straight points, a run fueled by a pair of steals, to put some distance between the two clubs.
Linfield fought back to within one, 23-22, on a Brandon Harris 3-pointer with 5:07 remaining in the opening half. The Lutes, however, responded with a 12-4 run to claim a 35-26 lead by intermission.
Andrew Batiuk scored the first points of the second period, but from then on it was all PLU. After shooting 35 percent from the field in the opening frame, the Lutes heated up, knocking down 45.2 of their shot attempts as their lead swelled to as many as 21 points late in the second half.
The silver lining for the ‘Cats came in the final 4:15, when they outscored PLU 12-4. Defensively, Linfield - playing mostly reserves - held the Lutes scoreless for 3 ½ minutes.
Three Pacific Lutheran players scored in double figures, led by Conti’s 16 points. The senior guard also dished out a game-high six assists. Cameron Schilling contributed 15 points to go along with three steals and Earnest had 11 points.
For Linfield, Batiuk finished with a game-high 20 points on 10-of-19 shooting from the floor. Anderson, who entered tonight’s contest averaging 22.3 points per game, failed to score in double figures for the first time all season. Limited to just 20 minutes of action due to injury, he finished with eight points. Meikle and David Lee also went to the bench early with injuries.
COMING UP: Linfield looks to complete the series sweep against Willamette when the team travels to Salem Friday night. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. with live play-by-play coverage beginning at approximately 7:50 p.m.
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