The University of Redlands men's basketball squad continued its Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) journey on Thursday night, taking on the visiting Whittier College Poets in a game that needed three overtime periods to determine a victor. Despite a 28-point effort from freshman forward Blake O'Brien (Sammamish, WA), the Bulldogs fell just short of the win in a 90-93 decision.
An intense battle ensued from the get-go as both teams traded leads throughout the first half of the contest. O'Brien came to play from the opening tip-off, as he worked to register 11 points in the opening 20 minutes of play.
After the score was knotted up at 28 apiece, the Bulldogs hit a decline in offensive production and fell victim to a 16-7 Poet run to end the first period. The teams retreated to the locker rooms with Whittier leading by a score of 46-35.
However, Head Coach Jim Ducey's halftime speech inspired the Bulldogs, especially junior forward Aljosa Bjekovic (Maribor, Slovenia) who notched the team's first 13 points during the opening seven minutes of the frame to cut the Maroon and Gray's deficit to four.
The Bulldogs continued to battle and trimmed the hole to one point after sophomore guard Sean Milligan (Portland, OR) and O'Brien tallied back-to-back buckets to bring the score to 63-64.
With 2:07 remaining in the second stanza, the Maroon and Gray grabbed the lead for the first time since eight minutes to go in the first half. O'Brien snapped the bottom of the net on a jump shot to put Redlands up by a score of 67-66.
However, the Bulldogs failed to maintain their lead with 30 seconds left in the game after Whittier's Nick Demusis sank two free-throws to send the game into overtime due to a 69-69 tie.
Senior guard Marco Kengott (San Diego, CA) was a man on a mission in the first overtime period by aggressively driving to the lane and notching the first six points to snag a 75-69 lead for Redlands. S. Milligan provided solid defensive efforts as he hauled in three crucial rebounds that led to the Bulldogs' quick start in the first overtime period.
However, Whittier was relentless by notching a three-pointer with just 48 seconds left.
O'Brien followed the Poets' three-pointer by rising up and hammering home a dunk to bring the score to 77-72.
With just 17 seconds left in the extended period, the Poets worked the ball around to get a solid look at a tying shot from beyond the arc. The ball rimmed out but Whittier came up with the offensive rebound and reset for the second-chance opportunity. This time, Jacob Contreras converted the three-pointer with a half second left on the clock to tie the game at 78 and force a second overtime period.
O'Brien and Bjekovic teamed up for the second overtime period on the offensive end, as they combined for six points from the floor. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs went 3-for-6 from the charity stripe, allowing the Poets to force a third overtime period with the score gridlocked at 84-84.
Trailing 85-89 with 2:38 left to play in the third overtime period, O'Brien hit what could have been the most clutch shot of his young career thus far, as he pulled up behind the arc on a fast break and converted the three-pointer to bring the Maroon and Gray within one point at 88-89.
Unfortunately, Redlands' final efforts to score were unfruitful, resulting in the difficult 90-93 loss.
Bjekovic was a rebound shy of a double-double, as he finished with 22 points and nine rebounds. O'Brien was an animal on both sides of the floor, recording 28 points and eight rebounds. Kengott was equally as impressive by notching 17 points and dishing out six assists. S. Milligan hit the boards hard by corralling 12 rebounds and swatting away two Poet shot attempts.
Whittier's Demusis led all players with 33 points on the night.
Redlands won the rebounding battle with a 57-to-49 margin, which included a 17-to-11 edge on the offensive end.
The Bulldogs (5-10, 2-4 SCIAC) continue their SCIAC slate on Saturday, January 24, when they travel to Orange to take on the No. 18 Chapman University Panthers (15-1, 6-0 SCIAC) at 4 p.m.