Panthers handle Beulah, improve record to 7-0

Keeping Brad Heidlebaugh down is a tall task for most teams, and Beulah didn’t have an answer on Saturday night.

The 6-foot-4 junior scored 18 of his game-high 28 points in the first half, leading fourth-ranked and unbeaten Rugby to a convincing 65-46 win to cap the inaugural Hoopster Classic at the Minot State University Dome.

“We’re pretty fortunate that he’s only a junior,” Rugby coach Mike Santjer said with a big smile. “He’s a great basketball player.”

Heidlebaugh made his presence known in the paint right from the get-go, scoring the first four points of the game. He also had three straight baskets late in the first quarter that put the finishing touches on a 9-0 run.

“That’s how we try to work it every night,” Heidlebaugh said. “Me and Zach (Miller) are the big kids. We try to get the ball into the post a lot. That really opens up the outside game with kicking it out.”

The Miners didn’t have a strong post presence to counter Heidlebaugh.

“They’re all athletic, but they weren’t big,” Heidlebaugh said. “We thought we’d do pretty good down in the paint and I think we did tonight.”

Said Santjer: “We’re quite a bit bigger inside than most teams are gonna be. Having Zach Miller and Brad inside helps us move the ball around and get open shots for those kids on the outside.”

Tanner Bernhardt took notice. Rugby’s 6-foot junior guard drained three 3-pointers, ending with 15 points. His second trey gave the Panthers a 26-12 advantage at the end of the first quarter.

Beulah bounced back, though, with an 11-3 run that brought the Miners to within striking distance. Rugby (7-0) put the kibosh on that with six straight points right before halftime to lead 35-23. The second half was all Panthers.

“It seemed like we got a little bit of a lead and we settled,” Santjer said of the second quarter. “I think we thought we were gonna coast through it. (Beulah coach Jeremy Brandt) does a great job with those guys. They’re not gonna stop fighting. Once we get up, we’ve got to keep the pedal down and keep pushing.”

Beulah (2-3) received 15 points from Casey Walcker in the loss.