The University of Redlands men's basketball team continued Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) action by taking to the road to face the Whittier College Poets on Saturday afternoon. Despite pulling within five points at the midway point of the second half, the Bulldogs went cold on both ends of the court en route to a 77-97 loss.
Senior forward Al Bjekovic (Maribor, Slovenia) initiated the scoring for Redlands by kissing two points up and in off the glass. Amidst multiple lead-changes in the opening few minutes of the first frame, sophomore guard Kyle Husslein (Tamuning, Guam) worked to keep the Bulldogs on top or within striking distance by hitting a jumper and cashing in two points at the charity stripe.
Senior center Shawn James (Plano, TX) continued to remain effective off the bench by notching two points on a lay-up and assisting on another bucket off the hand of junior guard Sean Milligan (Portland, OR) for the Bulldogs' early 18-15 lead with 13:50 left to go in the first half.
After Whittier regained the lead shortly after the 13-minute mark, the Bulldogs began to play catch-up, as highlighted by a jumper and a 3-for-3 mark from the free-throw line from Husslein to make it 29-32 with 5:56 remaining.
Sophomore center Blake O'Brien (Sammamish, WA) chipped in five points as well, but the Poets took advantage of their multiple trips to the charity stripe late in the half to extend their advantage to 11 points at the break.
Trailing 33-44, the Bulldogs looked to Bjekovic to fuel their offense in the opening three minutes of the second half by notching two points and successful and-one play. Freshman guard Joey Sponheim (Redlands, CA) added to Redlands' scoring arsenal by checking into the game and draining two-consecutive three pointers, assisted by James and sophomore forward Will Tender (Spokane, WA), respectfully. Husslein later added his lone triple of the contest to pull the Bulldogs within nine points with 14:30 remaining.
The Maroon and Gray continued to fight for the lead, as Tender began to make a huge impact with two points at the charity stripe followed by a lay-up. Sponheim and Bjekovic combined for four points shortly after to bring the Bulldogs within five at 60-65 withm 11:46 left on the second-half clock.
Unfortunately, the Poets began to light up the hardwood and expanded their lead in the following minutes, eventually handing the Bulldogs a 77-97 loss.
Bjekovic was one rebound shy of a double-double, as he drained 16 points and hauled in nine rebounds - both acting as team-highs. Husslein backed Bjekovic's efforts with a 15-point showing that featured a 6-for-7 mark from the line.
Sponheim led the bench brigade in scoring with 12 points, while James was effective with seven points in 15 minutes of action.
Redlands held the edge on the boards by out-rebounding the Poets, 39-37. Additionally, the Bulldog bench was more offensively potent with a 31-27 scoring advantage.
The Bulldogs (7-9, 3-4 SCIAC) return home on Wednesday, January 27, for a 7:30 p.m. bout against the Chapman University Panthers in Currier Gym.