With the 2016 Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) Postseason Tournament just around the corner, the University of Redlands men's basketball team faced off against the Whittier College Poets in a critical conference game on Wednesday night in Currier Gym. With potent offensive attacks from both squads that featured a combined 63 three-point attempts, three ties, and six lead-changes, the Bulldogs were unable to overcome a Poet team that shot 48.7% from beyond the arc en route to a 77-85 loss.
Junior guard Sean Milligan (Portland, OR) kicked off the scoring for the Bulldogs in the opening minutes with a lay-up that was assisted by senior forward Kyle Milligan (Portland, OR). Sophomore guard Kyle Husslein (Tamuning, Guam) put the Bulldogs on top a possession later by flushing a triple that hit nothing but net. Senior forward Al Bjekovic (Maribor, Slovenia) kept Redlands in the heat of the contest by burying a jumper off of another quality pass from K. Milligan to force a 6-6 tie early on.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the Poets went on a 13-3 run that put the home team in an early hole.
But, the Maroon and Gray refused to go away and went to work, as Husslein located S. Milligan for a trey-ball to axe Whittier's scoring streak. Husslein added a lay-up on the ensuing possession, which was backed by two points from sophomore guard Will Tender (Spokane, WA) who ripped down an offensive board to set up the score. S. Milligan continued to do work on the offensive end, this time acting as the facilitator by finding his brother for an easy lay-up with the shot clock ticking down to make it a five-point game at the 8:45-mark.
When freshman guard Joey Sponheim (Redlands, CA) entered into the contest, he added fuel to the U of R's tank by knocking down a pair of shots beyond the arc. Sponheim's shooting was infectious, as sophomore guard Wyatt Pannabecker (Choteau, MT) mimicked his offensive output by nailing two three-pointers to pull the Bulldogs within one point at 34-35 with 3:36 to go in the first frame.
S. Milligan capped off the Bulldogs' scoring in the opening 20 minutes of action with a lay-up that was once again assisted by K. Milligan, as Redlands retreated to the locker room with a 36-41 deficit.
The Bulldogs came out roaring in the second half by capitalizing on consecutive offensive possessions. Sophomore center Blake O'Brien (Sammamish, WA) kicked off the scoring with a jumper, which was backed by a K. Milligan lay-up. O'Brien and Bjekovic maintained the flow by combining for two points, while Tender earned his way to the charity stripe and cashed in two points. Sponheim put Redlands back on top by drilling a running jumper in the lane at 48-47 with just over 15 minutes remaining.
Both teams began to fire off shot-for-shot, as there were four lead-changes in the ensuing five minutes of play. Pannabecker continued to shoot with a purpose by drilling a floating jumper for the Maroon and Gray's one-point lead, while O'Brien nailed two free-throws to keep the Bulldogs on top by a score of 52-49 with 11:31 to go.
However, the lead was short-lived, as the Poets began to heat up from downtown. S. Milligan did all he could to keep the Bulldogs afloat by hitting two free-throws and a three-pointer. Furthermore, Bjekovic began to take matters into his own hands and hold responsibility for the next seven points. Sponheim chipped in another triple to keep the Bulldogs within one at 72-73 with just under five minutes remaining.
However, the Bulldogs struggled offensively down the stretch, leading to a 77-85 loss.
Overall, Bjekovic was a rebound shy of a double-double by dropping a team-high 14 points and grabbing nine rebounds, four of which came on the offensive end. Husslein tallied 13 points, while S. Milligan backed him with 12 points.
Sponheim led the bench with 11 points that included a 3-for-6 mark from beyond the arc. Pannabecker was the next effective offensive weapon off the bench by flushing nine points.
The Bulldogs shot 42.3% from the field, which included a 41.7% mark from three-point range. In addition, they took care of the ball by only committing three turnovers while forcing the Poets to hand over 10.
With the loss, Redlands (11-12, 7-7 SCIAC) sits in a four-way tie for third place in the very congested SCIAC standings and has two more games to play in the regular season. The Bulldogs wrap up home-court play with Senior Night on Saturday, February 20, when they take on the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges Stags at 5 p.m. in Currier Gym.