PASADENA — Through two games, the Flintridge Prep boys' basketball team has already enjoyed the value of taking part in the Maranatha varsity basketball summer league.
Two days after taking down a Marshall Fundamental team that relied heavily on guard Evan Bynum, the Rebels faced a stronger contender in well-balanced Mark Keppel, a squad known throughout the San Gabriel Valley for its up-tempo play and adroit three-point shooting.
While the challenge was certainly different, the result was near the same as Flintridge Prep used its brutish inside presence to wear down the Aztecs in a 49-42 victory Thursday afternoon.
"We love it any time we have a chance to play Mark Keppel because they're so disciplined," Flintridge Prep Coach Garrett Ohara said. "They run very good stuff offensively and they put pressure on you defensively."
It was pressure, though, from the Rebels' defense that propelled Flintridge Prep from an eight-point deficit after Keppel guard Kyler Lee drained a three-pointer to open the second half, which put the Aztecs up, 33-25, with 7:08 left in third quarter.
From that point on, however, the Rebels scored 18 consecutive points to close out the quarter with a 43-33 advantage, while Flintridge Prep's streak reached 20 unanswered points as Tyler Weakland opened the fourth with an offensive putback.
Part of the Rebels' defensive success was due to Ohara's switch from a man-to-man defense to a zone that accommodated the Aztecs' ball-handling skills.
"We can't play man-to-man against some of those positions because they virtually have four or five guards out there," Ohara said. "We knew we had some match-up problems, so we played some zone."
On the flip side, the Rebels' roster, which featured three players 6-foot-3 or taller versus one such athlete for Keppel, was just too much for the Aztecs.
"We wore them down a little bit with our inside presence with Kareem [Ismail] and Chad [Cosse] particularly," Ohara said. "Chad was able to get quite a few baskets in that third and we were able to get a lot of shots at the rim, where they were mostly getting jump shots."
Maybe it was no coincidence that 6-5 center Ismail (12 points and nine rebounds) and 6-3 forward Cosse (10 points and nine rebounds) led the Rebels in scoring and rebounds and, in particular, combined for 10 points and six rebounds in the third.
"This team was fast and athletic, so we knew we had to work on our zone," Ismail said. "Every game you learn something new. With a good three-point shooting team like them, I just tried to stick with my man."
Keppel shot close to 40% from behind the arc last season and was held to eight-of-23 shooting (35%) Tuesday.
Yet, after the Aztecs hit three three-pointers in the first quarter, the Rebels adjusted well to Keppel's high screening and held the reigning Almont League champions to five triples the rest of the way.
"We found out who were their shooters and we were able to contain them a little bit better and put a little more pressure," Ohara said. "The mindset was, 'Hey we're not getting through screens,' we're allowing them to get the shots that they wanted and they executed and did that early in the first half. We adjusted better to defending their screens [the rest of the game]."