The University of Redlands men's basketball team battled it out with the University of La Verne Leopards in Saturday's Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) game in front of an enthusiastic crowd in Currier Gym. Due to a strong offensive effort that included career-high scoring from sophomore guard Kyle Husslein (Tamuning, Guam) and junior guard Sean Milligan (Portland, OR), the Bulldogs overcame a second-half deficit to edge the Leopards by a score of 76-72.
The Leopards came out on fire, as Cruz Mertens knocked down back-to-back three-pointers to start the game.
However, the Bulldogs remained steadfast in their game plan and responded with lay-ups by three different players.
After the teams traded baskets over the next few minutes, La Verne hit another trey-ball to give the visitors a 17-12 lead with 11:15 remaining in the half.
Redlands kept things close, until the Leopards' long-range shooters heated up again to convert three buckets from beyond the arc for a 35-26 ULV advantage with 3:34 left on the first-half clock.
But Milligan and freshman guard Joey Sponheim (Redlands, CA) answered for Redlands by hitting threes of their own. These key shots were bookended by important baskets from senior forward Al Bjekovic (Maribor, Slovenia) and sophomore center Blake O'Brien (Sammamish, WA), resulting in a three-point deficit at 34-37 when the teams retreated into the locker rooms.
After La Verne scored a quick three-pointer to start the second stanza, Redlands rallied to keep the deficit at six or less, until Bjekovic made his way to the line for two successful free-throws at the 16:31-mark.
However, the Leopards' offense regained the momentum with a 4-0 run to make it an eight-point game at 47-39.
But the Bulldogs came storming back, with Milligan and Bjekovic leading the charge by combining for a 13-6 run over the next six minutes. Milligan's three-pointer inspired the same from Bjekovic to initiate the scoring spurt and bring the Bulldog faithful to their feet.
After Bjekovic rolled one in off the glass, Milligan made the most of two trips to the charity stripe for the Maroon and Gray's first lead of the second half at 49-47.
Milligan finished out the impressive run with another three-pointer, a lay-up, and a free-throw.
Leading by two points at 55-53 with 8:19 to go, Redlands found an answer to every Leopard bucket, including the three-pointer, which O'Brien stepped behind the arc to drain for the Bulldogs' 65-60 lead with 3:18 to go.
An exchange of fouls forced both teams to the charity stripe, eventually allowing La Verne to regain the lead at 68-67 with 1:46 left on the clock.
However, Husslein responded with two huge free-throws and a well-timed jumper to make it 71-68. Now forced to foul, La Verne sent him to the line and he came up big-time by hitting four of his six free-throw attempts in the final 24 seconds. Bjekovic also made his way to the stripe, hitting a critical one to make it a two-possession game with eight ticks on the clock.
The Leopards' final shot missed the mark, resulting in the exciting 76-72 victory for the Bulldogs.
Milligan went off for a game-high 23 points on 8-for-14 shooting. He also added four rebounds and two assists.
Husslein finished with a career-high 20 points, which included an 8-for-11 showing at the charity stripe. Bjekovic rounded out the scoring with 19 points, to go along with 13 rebounds and two assists.
Senior center Kyle Milligan (Portland, OR) provided 14 rebounds, two blocks, and two assists in a solid night.
Redlands shot a solid 48.2% overall, as compared to La Verne's 39.1% showing. The Bulldogs also won the rebounding battle with a 45-32 advantage.
Redlands (6-8, 2-3 SCIAC) heads to nearby Claremont to face the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges Stags on Wednesday, January 20, for a 7:30 p.m. tip-off. Due to construction on CMS' campus, the game will take place in Pomona-Pitzer's Rains Center.