For the second time in as many games, the University of Redlands men's basketball team overcame a 17-point deficit to steal the win, with tonight's 76-74 victory coming against Whittier College in the semifinal of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) Postseason Tournament. In the teams' third meeting of the season, the Bulldogs revealed their poise and determination once again, as they matched the Poets' impressive three-point shooting and took care of business at the free-throw line to secure the hard-fought win.
Redlands and Whittier combined for 22 made three-pointers on the night, with sophomore guard Kyle Husslein (Tamuning, Guam) hitting the first one on the Bulldogs' opening possession.
Redlands stretched its lead to eight points by the 13:12-mark, with junior guard Sean Milligan (Portland, OR), freshman guard Joey Sponheim (Redlands, CA), and sophomore forward Nate Battisti (Seattle, WA) each sinking shots from downtown.
However, the Poets answered with a few three-pointers of their own to eventually take the lead at 28-24 with 7:35 left on the first-half clock.
Whittier maintained its offensive rhythm over the next few minutes and stretched the advantage to 17 points at 44-27. But a quick six points between Redlands' Milligan and sophomore forward Will Tender (Spokane, WA) kept the Bulldogs within striking distance by a score of 33-44 at the end of the first half.
Although the Bulldogs' deficit expanded to 14 points less than two minutes into the second stanza, they refused to go away and mounted another memorable comeback. After another three-pointer by Milligan, senior forward Al Bjekovic (Maribor, Slovenia) followed suit with a trey-ball of his own, cutting the Maroon and Gray's hole down to 10 points. Redlands further trimmed down the deficit with a lay-up by senior center Shawn James (Plano, TX) that came off of a well-timed block by sophomore center Blake O'Brien (Sammamish, WA).
Whittier remained comfortably in front over the next few minutes, until Redlands' long-range shooting ignited with consecutive threes. Battisti hit the first one and then pulled in a big defensive rebound, before Husslein put up a nothing-but-net three-pointer off of an assist by Tender to make it 54-56 with 10:57 to go.
From here, the teams jockeyed for the lead, trading bucket for bucket, with Redlands also taking advantage of its multiple trips to the free-throw line.
Trailing by one with 3:45 left on the clock, Milligan put up his fifth three-pointer of the night to give Redlands the lead. After Whittier missed its chance to tie it up at the stripe, Sponheim converted a big free-throw to make it 76-74 and complete the Bulldogs' epic comeback victory.
Milligan finished with a team-high 20 points, which came off 5-for-9 shooting from downtown. He added four rebounds and two steals in 31 minutes on the floor.
Bjekovic notched his fifth double-double of the season, with this one coming off of 12 points and 12 boards. O'Brien added nine points, five rebounds, and two blocks, while Husslein chipped in eight points, two boards, two assists, and two steals.
Battisti led the bench brigade with a season-high 15 points by shooting 50% from the floor.
With the win, No. 3-seeded Redlands squares off against the top-seeded Panthers of Chapman University on Saturday, February 27, in Orange at a time to be announced. Earlier tonight, the Panthers prevailed over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges by a score of 71-61 in the other semifinal.