The University of Redlands men's basketball team hosted UC Santa Cruz in Friday night's game of the 2017 Lee Fulmer Memorial Classic in Currier Gym. In a physical and tight contest, the Bulldogs built a 12-point lead in the second half and stymied the Banana Slugs' comeback effort with tenacious defense and quality shooting. While never trailing in the final 20 minutes, Redlands secured its first win of the season with an 80-74 decision that featured four Bulldogs in double figures.
Although Redlands stormed out to a 9-2 lead, the Banana Slugs quickly recovered to earn their largest lead of the game at 19-13 with 10:15 to go in the first half.
After Head Coach Jim Ducey called a timeout, the Bulldogs reset the line-up and took advantage of a technical foul on Santa Cruz to cut the deficit to 15-19. First-year guard Jacob Russell (Boise, ID) stepped up to the line to hit both free-throws.
The Maroon and Gray fired off an 8-3 run to regain the lead at 23-22 with 6:08 left on the first-half clock. Junior guard Trevor Baker (Phoenix, AZ) hit nothing-but-net on a three-ball off of a sweet pass from first-year forward Jordan Holden (Anaheim, CA) before sinking two shots from the charity stripe. Russell closed out the scoring spurt for Redlands by converting the three-point play off of a driving lay-up.
However, the Banana Slugs tied it up for the last time at 25. Redlands pulled away when it gained well-timed buckets from senior guard Kyle Husslein (Tamuning, Guam) and junior guard Joey Sponheim (Redlands, CA). Husslein dished out a dime of a pass on Sponheim's three-pointer to give the home team a 32-28 lead at the 2:24-mark.
Although Santa Cruz repeatedly cut the deficit to two points, the Bulldogs continued to respond and never let go of their lead. Baker scored Redlands' final five points of the half, as the teams retreated to the locker room in a tight 41-35 tally at the break.
Early in the second half, sophomore forward David Menary (Grass Valley, CA) and Baker continued to do work on the offensive end, which propelled the Bulldogs to their largest lead of the night at 51-39 with 16:42 left in the game.
But once again, the visiting team battled back to pull within three just five minutes later. Nonetheless, Baker answered for the Maroon and Gray by swishing a trey-ball off of Husslein's steal and Sponheim's assist.
Two minutes later, Santa Cruz made it a two-point game at 58-60, which only inspired Husslein to step back behind the arc and convert a huge bucket from downtown off of another Sponheim assist, just as the shot clock expired.
This pattern continued, with the Banana Slugs trying to close in and the Maroon and Gray responding with made free-throws, tough defense, and big-time buckets.
Now in front by a score of 77-74 late in the game, Baker's heads-up defense resulted in a huge steal to give the ball back to Redlands with 13 seconds to go. Forced to foul, Santa Cruz sent Baker to the line, where he converted a free-throw to stretch the lead to 78-74. With five seconds to go, Redlands sealed the deal when Husslein converted two shots at the charity stripe for the home team's first win of the 2017-18 campaign.
Baker paced the Bulldogs with 21 points to go along with nine rebounds and three steals. Sponheim provided 18 points and six assists, while Husslein impressed off the bench with 17 points and 14 rebounds for the only double-double of the night. Menary chipped in 10 points and five boards, as highlighted by four on the offensive end.
Overall, Redlands won the rebounding battle with a 47-40 advantage that included five more offensive boards than Santa Cruz.
The Bulldogs (1-3) face No. 11 University of Wisconsin-Whitewater on Saturday, December 2, at 7 p.m. in Currier Gym. UW-Whitewater defeated Caltech in Friday's early game by a score of 78-61, with Mitchell Pfeifer and Derek Rongstad combining for 35 points.