The Rugby boys basketball team is heading back to the state tournament after accomplishing a feat it hadn't needed to do very often this season: overcome a halftime deficit.
The top-ranked and undefeated Panthers erased a seven-point hole in the second half as junior guard Tanner Bernhardt buried four 3-pointers in the third quarter and buried Des Lacs-Burlington 76-65 in the Region 6 championship game Thursday at the Minot State Dome. It was just the second time this season Rugby had trailed at halftime.
"There was a little more sense of urgency," Rugby coach Mike Santjer said. "The kids are a lot more calm than I am. I get a little wrapped up in the emotions, but they just knew they have to keep plugging away and stick with the game plan."
Rugby junior Tanner Bernhardt hits a 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter over Des Lacs-Burlington senior Chris Duke in the Region 6 championship on Thursday at the Minot State Dome.
Rugby (25-0) needed just 1:51 to draw even at 36 after going to the locker room down 36-29. Back-to-back baskets by senior guard Jaedon Haman pulled the Panthers within three and Bernhardt knocked down a trey to tie the game. Bernhardt hit another 3 on the next possesion to put Rugby in front 2:15 into the third quarter. The Panthers trailed by as many as 10 points late in the first half.
"When I looked up at the scoreboard and it was 36-36 - when we had come all the way back after half - I thought we were going to win this game," Rugby junior forward Brad Heidlebaugh said.
DL-B senior forward Tanner Holte scored six of the game's next eight points to briefly put the Lakers (22-3) back in front 42-41. It was short-lived as the Panthers closed the third quarter on a 13-2 run, with Bernhardt providing an exclamation mark by drilling a 3 at the buzzer.
"I'm not going to be able to do that every night, but it feels great to do it in the Region 6 championship," Bernhardt said.
Bernhardt recorded 22 points.
DL-B senior guard Mitchell Medalen almost single-handedly led the Lakers back in the fourth quarter. Medalen scored DL-B's first 10 points of the quarter and trimmed Rugby's lead to 60-54 with approximately four minutes remaining. The Lakers got as close as four points before the Panthers reclaimed a double-digit lead with 1:14 left. Bernhardt knocked down his sixth 3 of the game and Heidlebaugh iced it from the free-throw line, scoring seven of Rugby's final nine points.
Heidlebaugh scored the first and last points of the contest - the opening bucket giving him 1,000 points for his career. He finished with a game-high 27 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists.
The Panthers started strong and jumped out to a 16-8 lead late in the first quarter before Holte caught fire. The region's outstanding senior athlete started slow after his 16-for-20 showing against Our Redeemer's Christian School the night before. He missed his first three shots before hitting his first shot with 59 seconds left in the first quarter. He followed with a 3 to pull the Lakers within 16-14 at the end of the first.
"We had a poor start," DL-B coach Doug Wagner said. "We came out of the gate really slow. We had two lulls the first six minutes of the game and that was our own doing."
Holte and senior Chris Duke provided the bulk of DL-B's scoring in the second quarter. Holte knocked down back-to-back treys and Duke added another during an 11-0 run that put the Lakers in front 29-21. Duke's final bucket of the half gave DL-B a 10-point advantage.
Holte finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds and Duke and Medalen each netted 14.
"We knew it wasn't going to be a 24-point game like it was in Rugby," Santjer said. "We knew it was going to be a battle and they had the capability of going on some major runs. Everybody just tried to stick with the game plan and do all the little things."
No. 10 Berthold 81, Our Redeemer's 67
The third-place game wasn't the contest the Berthold boys basketball team would have liked to have played in Thursday, but the Bombers performed like they were in the championship game.
Junior guard Austin Lee finished with 33 points and senior guard Mitchel White added 24 points and 13
rebounds in his final game with Berthold. The No.10 Bombers (21-4) limited the fast-paced Knights to 11 points in the first quarter and found their stroke from behind the arc. Lee and White each hit a pair from distance as Berthold led 23-11 after one.
ORCS (19-6) closed the game to eight at halftime and was within two at 43-41 following back-to-back buckets by junior forward Davis Koppinger with 2:59 remaining in third quarter. Berthold responded with a 13-4 run to grab a double-digit lead heading into the fourth quarter.
"We knew we wanted to send our seniors out with a victory," Berthold coach Chris Brown said. "We always say the next game is the most important. We were fortunate enough to have another game and a lot of teams in the state didn't. We looked at it from the prospective that there are only 12 teams in the state that end their season with a victory. We wanted to be one of those 12 teams."
Koppinger finished with a double-double, recording 21 points and 16 rebounds. ORCS sophomore John Reiten also notched a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds.
Mike Kraft covers high school athletics and hockey. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.