The University of Redlands men's basketball team faced off against the Linfield College (OR) Wildcats on Sunday evening in Currier Gym for its second-consecutive, in-region match-up. After facing a one-point deficit at halftime, the Maroon and Gray remained resilient and outscored the Wildcats, 53-44, in the second half to defeat Linfield by a final score of 87-79.
With the result, the Bulldogs hand the Wildcats their first loss of the season.
Redlands and Linfield went head-to-head early in the game, as neither team truly distanced itself from one another. After sophomore center Blake O'Brien (Sammamish, WA) notched the first two points of the showdown, senior forward Al Bjekovic (Maribor, Slovenia) drilled a three-pointer after grabbing a defensive rebound on the Wildcats' previous possession. Sophomore guard Kyle Husslein (Tamuning, Guam) chipped in early on by rising up for a jumper to pull the Bulldogs within three with 15:39 left in the opening frame.
Despite a triple from sophomore forward Reed Hopkins (Spokane, WA) after a Redlands timeout, the Wildcats responded with two quick scores to put the Bulldogs down by six points. Nevertheless, sophomore forward Nate Battisti (Seattle, WA) drained a step-back three-pointer before junior guard Sean Milligan (Portland, OR) banked one in off the glass, trimming the Maroon and Gray's deficit to one point.
Redlands knotted up the score for the second time in the game, compliments of a leaning jumper by Husslein to make it 31-all with less than three minutes to play in the opening half. Junior forward Zack Whittet (Palm Desert, CA) and Bjekovic capped off the first frame by combining for three points in the final minutes, which left the Bulldogs with a 34-35 deficit at the break.
Unfortunately, Redlands came out shaky in the second frame by sending Linfield to the line twice in a matter of 41 seconds with shooting fouls from beyond the arc.
But the Bulldogs worked their back to within one point, thanks in part to a trey from Bjekovic. Husslein steadied the one-point deficit with a lay-up, which was assisted by senior forward Kyle Milligan (Portland, OR), to bring the score to 41-42 at the 17:36-mark.
However, the Wildcats fired off a 22-6 run over the next five minutes, forcing Redlands into a 14-point deficit with just over 12 minutes remaining in the game.
Following a three-pointer by S. Milligan to halt the Redlands' scoring drought, the Bulldogs began to effectively work their way to the free-throw line, beginning with Bjekovic's lucrative trip for three after drawing a foul beyond the arc. In addition, Husslein buried two free-throws and sophomore guard Wyatt Pannabecker (Choteau, MT) added a well-timed one as well.
Moments later, Husslein buried a jumper to trim the Maroon and Gray's deficit to four points at 61-65 with 9:12 remaining.
Junior forward Ryan Borak (Yorba Linda, CA) and freshman guard Joey Sponheim (Redlands, CA) checked into the game and contributed quality minutes for Redlands, as they combined for four points to bring the Bulldogs within three.
After trading bucket for bucket in the final six minutes of action, Bjekovic put the team on his back and gave them their first lead of the second half, first by burying a three to pull within one and then knocking down two shots at the charity stripe to grab a one-point advantage at 78-77.
From then on, the Bulldogs maintained quality offensive possessions and displayed defensive prowess en route to an 87-79 victory.
Bjekovic was a monster for the Maroon and Gray, recording a double-double with game-highs of 26 points and 15 rebounds. In addition, he was very effective from the free-throw line, penciling a 9-for-11 mark.
Husslein served as a spark plug for Redlands by burying 18 points. S. Milligan was very well-versed throughout the game, dropping nine points, hauling in seven rebounds, and pocketing two key steals.
Hopkins provided a lift from the bench with seven points, while Battisti backed him for seven points off the pine.
The teams shot comparably from the floor, but Redlands converted nine three-pointers on 19 attempts, while Linfield was 12-for-36 from long range. In addition, the Bulldogs out-rebounded the Wildcats, 48-34.
The Bulldogs (3-1) look forward to hosting the Lee Fulmer Memorial Classic on Friday, December 4, and Saturday, December 5. Redlands faces off against Life Pacific College on Friday at 7 p.m., before taking on the University of Antelope Valley on Saturday at 7 p.m.