The first quarter hasn't been a strong suit for the top-ranked and undefeated Rugby boys basketball team in recent weeks.
In those first eight minutes, the Panthers have struggled to knock down shots and get a feel for the game. Monday's Region 6 quarterfinal contest against Bishop Ryan was no different as Rugby failed to hit a shot from beyond two feet and trailed at the end of the first quarter.
But the Panthers found their rhythm in the second quarter and pulled away from there, knocking off the Lions 65-48 at the Minot State Dome. Rugby will play No. 10 Berthold tonight at 6 in the semifinals.
Rugby junior Nolan Hovland follows through after making a 3-pointer over Bishop Ryan senior forward Austin Eggl in a Region 6 quarterfinal game Monday at the Minot State Dome.
"Unfortunately, the last 12 quarters starting with districts, we just haven't come out great in the first quarter," Rugby coach Mike Santjer said. "We kind of dig ourselves a hole and try to crawl back out of it, which, hopefully, we can change in the next couple of games. Once we get a good sweat going and get in the flow of the game, all the sudden some shots start to fall."
A layup by senior guard Chris Hamilton in the opening minute of the second quarter gave the Panthers (23-0) their first lead of the game at 14-13. The Lions (15-8) momentarily reclaimed the lead with a basket by sophomore guard Tyler Daws before Rugby went on an 14-2 run over the next six minutes.
Junior guard Tanner Bernhardt's 3-pointer with 5:14 left in the first half was Rugby's first from outside the paint. The Panthers led 30-20 at halftime, holding Ryan to seven points in the second quarter. The Lions were hampered by 11 turnovers on the afternoon.
"Rugby's obviously a good defensive team, but we were also careless with the ball," Ryan coach Brock Teets said. "We didn't value the basketball as well as we needed to tonight. I was hoping we'd play our best game of the year, but we just didn't do that."
The Panthers found their shooting touch in the second half as they knocked down five shots from distance. Bernhardt hit three of his four treys in the second half and finished with 16 points. Junior forward Brad Heidlebaugh did most of his scoring in the first half and recorded a double-double with 19 points and 17 rebounds.
"He's not a guy that has an off-night," Santjer said of Heidlebaugh. "He works so hard and he gets good position inside. He gets a lot of close-range baskets. We have guys that can knock down shots, too. Brad's pretty fortunate to play with those guys. (Teams) have to respect those guys, too, so it makes life a bit tough."
Heidlebaugh's fellow post, junior Zach Miller, picked up his fourth foul with 3:25 left in the third quarter, allowing Ryan to double-team Heidlebaugh. With Miller on the bench, the Lions closed to within 47-36, but couldn't get closer. A 3 from junior guard Nolan Hovland to end the third and another from Bernhardt to start the fourth quarter pushed Rugby's advantage to 56-37.
The Panthers limited Ryan senior guard Brody Bosch to six points through three quarters before he netted nine in the final frame to finish with 15. Bosch scored 26 in Ryan's 70-62 loss on Dec. 14.
"Just focus on him a bit more," Heidlebaugh said. "We decided we were going to put more focus on him and other people had to help more often. We did a good job of that tonight."
Junior forward Jared Will (12 points) and Daws (10) also finished in double figures for the Lions.
Mike Kraft covers high school athletics and hockey. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.