Dominant Bench Propels U of R Men's Basketball to Win against Pacific (OR)

Photo credit: Olivia de la Cruz
Photo credit: Olivia de la Cruz

The University of Redlands men's basketball team competed in the friendly confines of Currier Gymnasium for the first time this season by facing off against the Pacific University Boxers (OR) on Saturday for in-region action. Through a tight-knit battle that featured four lead-changes, the Bulldogs pulled away due in part to a bench brigade that produced 50 points en route to a solid 73-58 victory.

The Bulldogs set the tone by notching the first points of the game, compliments of sophomore guard Kyle Husslein (Tamuning, Guam). Senior forward Al Bjekovic (Maribor, Slovenia) followed up a possession later with a successful and-one play for the Maroon and Gray's early three-point lead just minutes into the contest.

The Maroon and Gray's bench, which proved to be the story of the entire contest, immediately showed its strength, as junior forward Zack Whittet (Palm Desert, CA) laid a basket up and in before sophomore guard Wyatt Pannabecker (Choteau, MT) knocked down a triple on the ensuing possession. Sophomore forward Reed Hopkins (Spokane, WA) and senior center Shawn James (Plano, TX) followed suit in consecutive possessions by notching two points each to put the Bulldogs up by a score of 16-8 with 13:19 left to play.

Although the Boxers answered with a 13-2 run to take the lead, Redlands' dynamic bench fueled by Pannabecker and Hopkins put the home team back on top by three points. Sophomore forward Nate Battisi (Seattle, WA) acted as a spark plug for the Bulldogs by closing out the opening half with five points to give Redlands a 31-28 advantage.

Despite holding a three-point lead entering into the second slate, the Bulldogs were slow to regain momentum and suddenly trailed by five points. Nevertheless, Bjekovic got the Maroon and Gray going by working his way to the charity strip in the third minute, burying the first two points of the second half for the Bulldogs.

The lead began to seesaw between the squads early in the second frame, as Battisti played his part in the chase for the advantage by nailing a jumper to pull the Bulldogs within five.

While facing a four-point deficit with 15:11 left on the clock, the Redlands bench worked to light it up from beyond the arc, as freshman guard Joey Sponheim (Redlands, CA), Pannabecker, and Hopkins drained a three each in three-consecutive possessions to pull within one point. Sponheim followed that up by converting two free-throws to notch the game at 48-all with 11:37 left to play.

The Bulldogs followed with a short five-point run with a lay-up from sophomore center Blake O'Brien (Sammamish, WA) and a free-throw from Bjekovic to bring the score to 53-48 in Redlands' favor.

After the Boxers pulled within three with 7:10 remaining, the bench brigade took over the show once again, as highlighted by a three-point play and a long-range triple by Sponheim in back-to-back possessions, resulting in a quick 66-54 cushion with 5:15 left to play.

From then on, the Bulldogs controlled the pace of play and forced out-of-rhythm shots from the Boxers en route to the quality win for Redlands.

The Bulldogs gained great production from their bench, which combined efforts for a shooting percentage of 49.3. Three players landed in double-digit scoring, which featured 13 points each from Pannabecker and Hopkins. While playing in front of his local crowd for the first time, Sponheim dropped 11 points, nabbed five rebounds, and dished out four assists.

Bjekovic remained effective by tallying 12 points that included a perfect 4-for-4 mark from the charity stripe.

As a whole, Redlands shot 43.9% from the floor, as compared to the Boxers' 30.3% showing.

The Bulldogs (2-1) continue in-region action against Linfield College (OR) on Sunday, November 29, at 2 p.m. in Currier Gym.