The University of Redlands men's basketball team took to the hardwood in hopes of moving into sole possession of fourth place in the tight Southern California Intercollegiate Athletics Conference (SCIAC) standings by facing off against the Caltech Beavers on Monday night in Currier Gym. The Bulldogs strung together clutch runs throughout the game and clipped together solid defensive stands when needed most en route to a hard-fought 75-71 victory.
The Bulldogs came out blazing with a 14-4 scoring run, which was kicked off by sophomore guard Kyle Husslein's (Tamuning, Guam) triple to begin the contest. Sophomore center Blake O'Brien (Sammamish, WA) and senior forward Al Bjekovic (Maribor, Slovenia) combined for four points on consecutive possessions shortly after, before Husslein knocked down a jumper. Bjekovic continued to be quick on the trigger, this time nailing a three-pointer, which freshman guard Joey Sponheim (Redlands, CA) followed with a lay-up to give the U of R a 14-4 lead with less than 14 minutes left in the first half.
Despite a three-pointer each from Bjekovic and Sponheim leading past the midway point in the first frame, the Beavers trimmed the Maroon and Gray's lead to two points with 8:06 remaining. Nevertheless, the Bulldogs strung together a quick 7-0 run that started with another Bjekovic trey-ball. Freshman forward Trevor Brown (San Mateo, CA) and Bjekovic combined for two points from the line, while Husslein capped off the run when he snapped the bottom of the net with a jumper for Redlands' 31-22 lead with 5:49 remaining.
O'Brien began to come alive in the latter portion of the first half by drilling five points on consecutive possessions via three-pointer and lay-up to expand the Bulldogs' lead to 10 points at 36-26.
Husslein later added a lay-up to cap off the scoring for Redlands in the first half, leading to a 38-33 advantage at the break.
The Bulldogs came out of the locker room somewhat flat in the second frame, which allowed Caltech to tie the contest at 42-all.
However, Bjekovic put the team on his back and scored five-consecutive points by punching two tickets to the line, with one trip resulting from a successful and-one play. Sophomore forward Will Tender (Spokane, WA) was equally dynamic by drilling two shots from the charity stripe and banking home a lay-up for the Bulldogs' 51-44 advantage with just under 12 minutes to play.
After U of R senior center Shawn James (Plano, TX) nailed a bucket from downtown, the Beavers trimmed the Bulldog lead down to four points in the final few minutes of the second period. Husslein continued to do his part in keeping Redlands on top by drilling two free-throws and kissing two points up and in off the glass. Sponheim, O'Brien, and Bjekovic each hit a lay-up on three-consecutive possessions entering a Redlands timeout with a 68-62 lead with 4:15 remaining.
After both teams traded a three-pointer, the Bulldogs continued to perform well, despite a resilient and relentless Caltech squad. Husslein took control of the final minute by nailing a jumper and drilling the final two free-throws with less than 10 seconds remaining, which led to the Maroon and Gray's 75-71 victory.
Bjekovic man-handled the Beaver defense by tallying 28 points and 18 rebounds to earn a double-double. Of his 18 boards, seven came on the offensive end.
Husslein was a menace on the offensive front as well by drilling 20 points while also hauling in five rebounds and dishing out three assists.
Sponheim lead the bench in scoring with seven points in 15 minutes of action, while James contributed five points in 25 minutes of work.
With the victory, the Bulldogs take sole possession of fourth place in the SCIAC. They look to maintain their top-four standing against the Occidental College Tigers (10-10, 4-7 SCIAC) on Wednesday, February 10, in Eagle Rock at 7:30 p.m.