The University of Redlands men's basketball team officially opened its season with a two-game road-stint at the UC Santa Cruz Hilton Opening Weekend Classic on Sunday and Monday. Despite outstanding performances by junior forward Aljosa Bjekovic (Maribor, Slovenia) and sophomore guard Sean Milligan (Portland, OR), the Bulldogs dropped a pair of overtime losses to the University of Dallas Crusaders and the Santa Cruz Banana Slugs.
In Sunday's outing against Dallas, the Bulldogs trailed by as many as 12 points in the second half but clawed their way back into the game with a remarkable 22-9 run that was capped off by a three-pointer by S. Milligan with 6:13 left in the second half.
After the teams traded baskets over the next few minutes, junior forward Kyle Milligan (Portland, OR) put Redlands in front at 66-63 with forty-four ticks left on the clock.
But the Crusaders managed to tie it up on a Blaine Blackburn three-pointer with nineteen seconds left in regulation. K. Milligan's last-second shot clanked off the rim, sending the game to overtime.
The Bulldogs fired off the first five points of the extra frame, as senior guard Marco Kengott (San Diego, CA) converted a lay-up and S. Milligan drained his fourth three-pointer of the game.
However, the Crusaders answered to eventually even the count at 73 apiece.
A late foul allowed Dallas to win the game at the free-throw line, as the Maroon and Gray's final play was broken up by the Crusader defense.
For the Bulldogs, Bjekovic finished with a game-high 28 points, which came on 9-for-15 shooting and an 8-for-8 performance at the charity stripe. He also led all players with 14 rebounds.
S. Milligan added 20 points on a 7-for-11 effort, while K. Milligan and senior guard Connor Griffin (San Ramon, CA) dished out five assists apiece.
Both teams shot admirably, as Dallas converted 41.8% of its attempts and Redlands hit 40.3% from the field. The Bulldogs gained a slight edge in the rebounding battle with a 42-40 advantage.
Redlands returned to action at Kaiser Permanente Arena on Monday, taking on the host team from Santa Cruz. In another overtime showing, the Bulldogs just missed out in a 55-57 decision.
The teams battled through a back-and-forth contest that saw eight ties and 16 lead-changes.
Redlands earned its largest lead of the competition midway through the second period when Bjekovic converted a three-point play to make it 42-39.
After the squad traded a few baskets, Bjekovic registered the Maroon and Gray's final points of regulation by sinking a pair of free-throws with 1:46 left on the clock to make it 46-46.
The Banana Slugs had the final two looks at the basket but also fouled the Bulldogs with seconds remaining. Unfortunately, Redlands missed both chances, extending the game to overtime.
In the extra stanza, Santa Cruz gained a four-point lead after back-to-back three-pointers but S. Milligan scored five points to give the Bulldogs a 53-52 advantage with just over a minute to go.
But a Jared Ponce three-pointer put the home team up with 12 seconds left, proving to be the difference.
Neither team shot particularly well in the game, as the Bulldogs registered a 28.6% effort and the Banana Slugs came in at 33.9%. UCSC knocked down five more three-pointers but the Maroon and Gray was nearly perfect from the charity stripe, converting 19 of 21 opportunities.
Redlands won the rebounding battle, earning 48 to Santa Cruz's 38.
Bjekovic and S. Milligan led the Maroon and Gray once again, combining for 35 points. K. Milligan pulled in 12 rebounds, while Bjekovic snagged 11.
Redlands (0-2) returns home to the friendly confines of Currier Gym on Friday for a non-conference showdown against Bethesda University at 7 p.m.