The University of Redlands men's basketball team battled it out with the visiting Whittier College Poets in a Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) showdown on Thursday night in Currier Gym. Amidst a game that included 13 lead-changes, nine knotted scores, and a 13-point swing, the winner was decided in the final minute off clutch shooting, with both teams having opportunities in the hard-fought contest. Despite a critical three-pointer by senior forward Sean Milligan (Portland, OR) and a late-game dunk by freshman forward Jesse Wims (London, England), the Bulldogs lost a heartbreaker in a 72-76 decision.
The teams traded punches until the five-minute mark of the first half, when the Poets stretched a one-point lead to six at 28-22.
After a trey-ball from sophomore guard Trevor Baker (Phoenix, AZ) and a crafty jumper by junior guard Wyatt Pannabecker (Choteau, MT) that brought the crowd to its feet, Redlands created some momentum late in the period to close within two points.
However, Whittier responded with a five-point spurt over the next 44 seconds to enter halftime with a 37-30 lead.
During the second stanza, the Bulldogs refused to go away and clawed their way back from a nine-point deficit, thanks in part to key lay-ups by junior guard Kyle Husslein (Tamuning, Guam) and sophomore forward Trevor Brown (San Mateo, CA). Following lay-ups by Baker and junior forward Blake O'Brien (Sammamish, WA), Redlands received a huge lift from sophomore guard Joey Sponheim (Redlands, CA) when he hit a bucket from downtown. Moments later, he came up with a key steal, which eventually led to another Baker three-ball for the Bulldogs' first lead of the second stanza at 53-51 with 10:50 remaining.
Redlands worked to extend its advantage to four points, but the Poets always answered with a big shot of their own to keep it a one-possession game. The back-and-forth battle ensued over the next few minutes, with neither team able to pull away.
With 1:39 to go, Whittier came up with a well-timed three for a 69-65 advantage.
But this time, the Bulldogs responded with a three of their own, as Milligan hit nothing-but-net off of a dime of pass from O'Brien. After Baker gave a great second effort to haul in the subsequent defensive board, O'Brien dished out another beautiful pass, this time finding Wims for a flawless dunk for Redlands' 70-69 advantage with 29 ticks left on the clock.
Nonetheless, Whittier's Conner Longmire had ice in his veins to step back to the three-point line for a critical bucket. Forced to foul, Redlands sent him to the charity stripe, where he converted both opportunities and ultimately sealed the deal for the Poets.
Four Bulldog starters finished in double figures, with Milligan leading the crew with 15 points. Baker recorded a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, while O'Brien and Wims each chipped in 10 points.
Sponheim impressed off the bench with an 11-point, four-assist, four-steal effort.
Redlands (5-10, 1-5 SCIAC) heads to Cal Lutheran University on Tuesday, January 24, for a 7 p.m. SCIAC game against the Kingsmen.