The University of Redlands men's basketball team battled through a challenging 2016-17 season that resulted in an overall record of 8-17 and a 4-12 Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) mark. With a youthful roster that showed great promise for the future, the Bulldogs struggled to close out the tight games, with more than half of the losses determined by five or fewer points.
Redlands officially opened the season by traveling up north to UC Santa Cruz to play in the Scotts Valley Hilton Classic in mid-November. After dropping a tough 59-61, back-and-forth battle to Pacific University (OR), the Bulldogs faced a quick turnaround against tournament host UC Santa Cruz. Despite being down by six at the half, Redlands showed great tenacity and perseverance to orchestrate a second-half scoring surge that inspired a hard-fought, 77-72 win over the Banana Slugs. Among the highlights, sophomore forward Trevor Brown (San Mateo, CA) recorded his best game of the season by notching seven points. Junior forward Nate Battisti (Seattle, WA) chipped in four points, dished out two assists, and hauled in one rebound in just 16 minutes of action off the bench.
During the annual Lee Fulmer Memorial Classic, the Maroon and Gray split results against non-conference opponents, Trinity University (TX) and University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Junior guard Kyle Husslein (Tamuning, Guam) put up some big numbers in the close, 63-60 victory over Trinity by registering 10 points, six rebounds, and one assist.
Redlands went 2-3 over the next five games, ending their non-conference run with an 86-69 triumph over La Sierra University at Whittier's Purple & Gold Poet Classic. After the Bulldogs created an early 10-point advantage, junior guard Wyatt Pannabecker (Choteau, MT), freshman forward Brittain Foster (Long Beach, CA), and junior forward Will Tender (Spokane, WA) added a spark off the bench to send their team into the locker room with a 39-28 halftime lead. Furthermore, senior forward Erick Oscarson (Chelan, WA) and freshman guard Jesse Grabow (San Ramon, CA) added to the Maroon and Gray's success with quality minutes as well. The squad continued to shine and eventually secured the 86-69 victory over the Golden Eagles in a solid showing.
After the holiday break, the team struggled to create a consistent, offensive rhythm and dropped its first three out of the gates. Despite shooting 51.9% from the field, the third loss came in heartbreaking fashion by just one point against Chapman University.
But this difficult defeat appeared to light a spark in the Bulldogs, as they went on to top Caltech by a score of 78-71 in their subsequent contest. Although the game included six ties and four lead-changes, Redlands pulled away late due to great defense and quality shooting. While trailing three at the half, freshman forward Jesse Wims (London, England) remained cool at the line to sink four free-throws early in the second stanza. Wims went on to score nine points and haul in six rebounds in the final 20 minutes of action en route to his first double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Although Redlands came up short in its next three SCIAC games, the team showed incredible grit in the last of these games, which came in an 82-85 loss to Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. After junior guard Blake O'Brien (Sammamish, WA) got things rolling for the Bulldogs by sinking a shot from beyond the arc just 20 seconds into the game, Cal Lutheran went on a big run to put Redlands in a fairly significant hole at the halftime break. The first four minutes of the second stanza proved to be all sophomore guard Trevor Baker (Phoenix, AZ), as he scored eight of Redlands' opening 11 points to slightly trim the deficit to 39-58. Following back-to-back Baker threes, Husslein made it three in a row for the Bulldogs, before Baker ended the spurt with a lay-up. By the midway point of the half, Redlands continued to fight but trailed by a score of 42-66. Freshman forward David Menary (San Rafael, CA) went off for six-consecutive points in a little over a minute, as O'Brien continued to step up with two defensive boards, an assist, and a blocked shot. Baker finished the night by scoring a career-high 33 points, which included 31 in the second half. O'Brien added 11 points and hauled in 10 rebounds for a double-double. The bench supplied 22 points, with Menary owning nine of them, to go along with five rebounds.
The Maroon and Gray jumped back in the win column with a pair of victories to cap off the month of January. Redlands completed the season sweep of Caltech with an 89-64 result while earning a hard-fought 77-75 win over Occidental College. Freshman guard Hass Berry (Riverside, CA) put together his two best games of the season by combining for 15 points and nine rebounds. Late in the game against the Beavers, sophomore guard Jacob Forte (Lake Elsinore, CA) and sophomore guard Allen Quintero (Ventura, CA) each left their mark on the score with two points apiece.
Amidst a five-game skid, Redlands dropped four by five of fewer points each to illustrate the continued competitive spirit of the Bulldogs. On February 14, the team celebrated the careers of seniors Sean Milligan (Portland, OR), Zack Whittet (Palm Desert, CA), and Oscarson, before taking on the Cal Lutheran Kingsmen in Redlands' final home game of the season. The Bulldogs came out firing on all cylinders, as Milligan bookended a run of three-consecutive trey-balls for an early 9-4 advantage. However, Cal Lutheran soon found its rhythm on offense to eventually tie it up at 17 apiece with 11:49 to play in the opening half. After Milligan's third bucket from downtown put Redlands up by a score of 24-22, the Kingsmen orchestrated a 10-0 run to flip the momentum in their favor by the 6:28-mark. Redlands regrouped when Foster hit a jumper before Baker tossed in a jumper of his own to make it a six-point game. Key buckets from sophomore guard Joey Sponheim (Redlands, CA) and O'Brien helped the Bulldogs to cut it to two but the squad ultimately fell in a 68-73 heartbreaker. Milligan ended his final night in Currier Gym with an impressive stat line that included 19 points, five assists, four blocks, four rebounds, and three steals. As a team, Redlands registered an incredible 11 blocks on the night.
The Bulldogs finished the regular season with road games at Whittier and Pomona-Pitzer. After Milligan went off against Cal Lutheran, he matched those points by scoring 19 against Whittier and then supplied 19 points, six rebounds, two assists, two blocks, and two steals in another well-rounded display against Pomona-Pitzer. Sponheim put on an offensive display in his best game of the season to find the zone for a 9-for-11 night, including five three-pointers, for a career-high 26 points in the 87-75 victory over the Sagehens.
After the conclusion of the season, Baker received Second-Team All SCIAC honors in his inaugural season as a Bulldog. He finished first on Redlands' stat sheet with 415 points, 16.6 points per game, 46 steals, 1.8 steals per game, and 118 defensive rebounds. Baker started all 25 games that he appeared in and had 21 games with more than 10 points and 15 games with more than 15 points.
With spurts of brilliance, the Maroon and Gray battled through a difficult campaign that shows promise for the future. Among those bright spots, the Bulldogs celebrated a dedicated senior class but look forward to the continued development and upcoming contributions of a talented returning crew.