The University of Redlands men's basketball team took to the hardwood for the first time this season when it faced off against the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs during Friday's game of the Mission Inn Kickoff Classic. After jumping out to an early lead, the Bulldogs managed to coast through the rest of the game by maintaining a steady dose of offense en route to a 67-58 victory.
The Bulldogs got off to a solid start by netting the first bucket of the contest, compliments of senior forward Al Bjekovic (Maribor, Slovenia). He continued his hot start with a made free-throw and a three-pointer in the first two minutes of action. Junior guard Sean Milligan (Portland, OR) backed Bjekovic by knocking down a triple, followed by a jumper two possessions later, to give the Bulldogs an early 11-5 cushion in the opening three minutes.
The Bulldogs kept things rolling with an 8-0 run that was sparked by sophomore center Blake O'Brien (Sammamish, WA), who kissed the glass for a lay-up and then dished out an assist on a Bjekovic bucket that drew the foul for a three-point play. Freshman guard Joey Sponheim (Redlands, CA) capped off the run by nailing a shot beyond the arc to bring the score to 19-5 with just a hair over 13 minutes left in the first half.
The Bulldogs remained aggressive, with sophomore guard Wyatt Pannabecker (Choteau, MT) driving the lane for an and-one play. Sophomore guard Kyle Husslein (Tamuning, Guam) added a three-pointer to cap off a first half that resulted in the Bulldogs' 38-29 advantage.
Despite losing a bit of steam at the end of the first half, the Maroon and Gray came out on fire, as S. Milligan kicked off the scoring with a three-pointer early in the second stanza. The duo of Bjekovic and S. Milligan remained potent by teaming up for back-to-back lay-ups, thanks to the helping hand of senior forward Kyle Milligan (Portland, OR), who notched both assists for Redlands.
Furthermore, Sponheim rose up for his second three-pointer of the game to bring the score to 48-34 near the 15-minute mark.
Junior forward Zack Whittet (Palm Desert, CA) join the scoring action with 9:27 left to play by burying a jumper to regain Redlands' offensive momentum. He then followed with another bucket three possessions later.
After the Banana Slugs pulled within nine points, Redlands put the nail in the coffin as Bjekovic knocked down a shot before O'Brien dropped in a three-pointer. Husslein sealed the deal with two free-throws in the final second for the Bulldogs' 67-58 season-opening victory.
Bjekovic contributed a game-high 21 points and hauled in nine rebounds. S. Milligan displayed offensive prowess by netting 17 points, which included a 2-for-3 mark from three-point land.
K. Milligan acted as the main facilitator by dishing out five assists.
Sponheim was the most effective weapon off the bench by nailing two three-pointers for six points in 14 minutes of work.
The Bulldogs (1-0) face off against Lewis & Clark College (OR) on Saturday at 3 p.m. for their final game of the Mission Inn Kickoff Classic in Santa Cruz.