Making a statement: Rugby tops Des Lacs-Burlington in battle of Region 6 foes

BURLINGTON – To all the preseason pundits lauding Des Lacs-Burlington as Region 6 favorites, the Rugby boys basketball team sent a message on Friday.

Don’t forget about the Panthers.

“We’re kinda a contender, too,” senior Kyle Lovcik said.

Rugby (8-1) played like one long enough to walk out of the Burlington-Des Lacs Elementary School gym with a 59-46 victory by cutting off the No. 5 Lakers’ perimeter-oriented offense.

During an eight-minute stretch in the second and third quarters, DL-B seldom found the basket.

Long rebounds and some mistimed Lakers turnovers turned into layups on the other end, and by the time DL-B knew what hit it, the sixth-ranked Panthers went on a 26-2 run to grab a 16-point lead.

“We knew that we could come in and probably push the tempo a little bit and hopefully wear them out,” Rugby coach Mike Santjer said. “If we’re shooting layups, we like those odds.”

DL-B (5-2) drained four 3-pointers in the first half, where the Lakers’ junior tandem of Tanner Holte and Chris Duke combined for 25 points. Duke hit three 3s in the first 16 minutes, prompting a halftime adjustment.

The Lakers didn’t hit another long-range shot until Duke’s 3 with three minutes, 53 seconds left in the game, when the chasm was too large for DL-B to make much of a dent in the final outcome.

“We focus on defense all the time,” Lovcik said. “When they’re shooting up all those 3s, it was kinda a slap in the face, ya know. It gave us more of a wanting to go out there and play hard.”

Lovcik, the Panthers’ lone returning all-region athlete, was held to just three points in the first half. In the final two quarters, he was seemingly unguardable near the rim, scoring 13 points in the second half.

“Kyle Lovcik, he’s one of the most athletic kids you’ll see,” Santjer said. “He thrives on us pushing the basketball. Usually the guys that guard him, they get tired and he’s got a motor that just doesn’t stop.”

The Laker offense rediscovered its rhythm offensively in the fourth quarter, but Rugby was equally adept at scoring and kept its double-digit lead throughout the rest of the contest to finish off its second victory over a top five team this season (the Panthers beat then-No. 3 Cavalier 42-37 win on Dec. 21).

“We made a huge statement tonight,” said Rugby senior Josh Michels, who had nine points.

Brad Heidlebaugh and Kyle Halvorson had 11 and 10 points for Rugby, who faces Rolla on Monday.

Duke’s 21 points paced all scorers and Holte tallied 18 for the Lakers. DL-B travels to TGU on Tuesday.