U of R Men's Basketball Falls to Chapman Panthers In SCIAC Postseason Tournament Championship Game

Photo Credit:  Beth Doolittle
Photo Credit: Beth Doolittle

The No. 3-seeded University of Redlands men's basketball team took to the hardwood for the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) Postseason Tournament Championship game on Saturday night, facing off against the top-seeded Chapman University Panthers in Orange, CA. In a game that truly lived up to the hype and came down to the final seconds, the Bulldogs overcame a deficit late in the game but could not hold on en route to the 69-71 season-ending defeat.

Senior forward Al Bjekovic (Maribor, Slovenia) kicked off the scoring for the Bulldogs by drilling two free-throws from the charity stripe after knocking down a three-pointer for the first five Bulldog points. Junior guard Sean Milligan (Portland, OR) joined the scoring action with a lay-up, before freshman guard Joey Sponheim (Redlands, CA) sank a trey-ball. Sophomore center Blake O'Brien (Sammamish, WA) provided the next four points on Redlands' end with a set of lay-ups to stay within striking distance at 14-18 with 11:29 remaining.

Sophomore forward Nate Battisti (Seattle, WA) struck shortly after by draining his first points of the contest behind the three-point line. He joined Bjekovic and Sponheim with key lay-ups before converting another three-ball. Sophomore guard Will Tender (Spokane, WA) capped off the scoring in the first half for the Maroon and Gray by kissing two points up and in off the glass, which came off an assist by sophomore guard Kyle Husslein (Tamuning, Guam), to make it a four-point game at 32-36 when the team retreated to the locker room at halftime.

After moving within one point of the lead with a three-pointer by O'Brien at the 14:06-mark, Redlands grabbed its first lead of the game when Milligan located Bjekovic for a bucket from downtown to snag a two-point advantage at 49-47 with 12:56 left in the contest. Husslein maintained the lead by hitting back-to-back jumpers while notching a lay-up shortly after for Redlands' 55-51 lead nearing the midway point of the stanza.

The hardwood began to heat up, as the teams traded buckets and the lead in the final three minutes of the game. With Husslein and Bjekovic each hitting go-ahead jumpers under the three-minute mark, the Panthers successfully answered back each time. O'Brien followed by draining the biggest shot of his young career to tie the game at 69-all with seven seconds remaining.

However, the Panthers drew a foul and knocked down two shots at the free-throw line on the ensuing possession, handing the Bulldogs a 69-71 defeat.

Bjekovic finished with 21 points, seven rebounds, two assists, one steal, and one block. Husslein notched 14 points, while O'Brien drilled 13 points and hauled in five rebounds.

Battisti dropped 10 points to lead the bench in scoring, while Sponheim flushed seven points and dished out two assists.

Overall, the game featured eight ties and six lead-changes. The Bulldogs shot 50.8% in comparison to the Panther's 42.6% mark.

Redlands finishes the 2016 season with a 14-13 mark, which included back-to-back victories after overcoming significant deficits in the previous two games.