The University of Redlands men's basketball team took to the hardwood in Currier Gym on Wednesday night, squaring off against the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs for the second time this season. In a game that featured six ties, nine lead-changes, and a maximum advantage of only six points, the Bulldogs came up short in a tight contest by a score of 66-67.
After scoring the Bulldogs' opening basket, sophomore guard Kyle Husslein (Tamuning, Guam) tacked on a trey to keep his team within one point at 7-8 early in the first half.
Following a Santa Cruz lay-up, Redlands strung together five-consecutive points, as senior forward Al Bjekovic (Maribor, Slovenia) cashed in on two free-throws, before junior forward Reed Hopkins (Spokane, WA) converted an and-one play to make 12-10 with 15:12 remaining in the first stanza.
The teams traded baskets over the next few minutes, with junior guard Sean Milligan (Portland, OR) tying it up at 19 apiece by converting two free-throws and then nailing a jumper on the Bulldogs' ensuing possession.
Sophomore center Blake O'Brien (Sammamish, WA) presented himself as an offensive threat as well by mimicking Milligan's previous output of two free-throws and a bucket on consecutive trips down the hardwood, putting Redlands ahead by a score of 23-22.
The back-and-forth action continued between the teams, with Bjekovic and Husslein providing key offensive plays for Redlands in the final few minutes of the half. But the Banana Slugs gained a slight four-point advantage at 38-34 as the teams retreated to the locker rooms for hafltime.
Husslein continued to cart a hot hand during the final 20 minutes of the contest by drilling two shots beyond the arc in back-to-back possessions to get the ball rolling for the Bulldogs. Hopkins successfully followed with a jumper to tie up the score at 42 with 16 minutes remaining in the game.
After a short 5-0 run from the Banana Slugs, O'Brien axed the streak by nailing a step-back three-pointer to bring the Maroon and Gray within three points. One possession later, Milligan followed with a lay-up that was initiated from a steal by Hopkins on the other end of the court.
Hopkins kept the Bulldogs within striking distance by drilling two back-to-back jumpers in quick succession, making it 52-55 with 9:19 left on the clock.
Although Santa Cruz extended its advantage to five points over the next few minutes, the Bulldogs rallied back with consecutive scores, thanks in part to Hopkins' key rebounding. O'Brien and freshman guard Joey Sponheim (Redlands, CA) joined forces on the offensive end to trim the deficit to one point with 5:10 remaining in the game.
Unfortunately, the Bulldogs hit a cold streak that featured a 0-for-5 mark from beyond the arc and a 4-for-7 mark at the charity stripe in the final five minutes of the game, leading to a 66-67 defeat.
Husslein led the Bulldogs in scoring with 15 points, to go along with three rebounds, two assists, and two steals. Milligan backed him with 13 points, including a 5-for-6 mark from the charity stripe. Hopkins drained a season-high 12 points off the pine in 24 minutes of action. He also tallied three rebounds and three assists. Bjekovic and O'Brien each chipped in nine points.
The Bulldogs (4-5) embark upon Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) action on Saturday, January 2, by hosting the Occidental College Tigers at 2 p.m. in Currier Gym. The Redlands women also tip off against the Tigers that day at approximately 4 p.m.