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Panthers see second place finish at CNDC

By Sue Sitter - | Dec 26, 2020

Sue Sitter/PCT Panthers guard Warren Walker attempts a three-point shot as Dragons’ Ethan Morin reaches for a block.

A tough climb to the final round of the 2020 CNDC Class B High School basketball tournament earned the Rugby Panthers second place in their home gym Dec. 19.

The three-day tournament began Dec. 17 in Rugby High’s Hanneman Gym, when the Panthers squared off against the TGU Titans.

The Titans and Panthers traded the lead in the first quarter before the Panthers squeaked out a three-point advantage before the ending buzzer, and three-point shots played a key role in keeping Rugby ahead. The Panthers made 100 percent of their attempts at shots inside and outside of the paint.

“It was a good thing to see us shoot pretty well, but with our size, I’d like to see us work the ball inside a little bit more,” Panthers Coach Mike Santjer said. “Then, once it goes inside and the defense collapses, we’re going to kick out. I’m glad we shot well because we needed those buckets to win.”

The 64-51 win had Rugby far ahead for three quarters until a push by the Titans in the second half saw them scoring 34 points, twice as many as they had in the first two quarters. Titan guard Cy Luna scored 21 points in the game, more than any player on either team.

However, four Rugby players scored in double-digits. Isaiah Bundy-Smith led the Panthers with 18; Cole Slaubaugh, Warren Walker and Trey Welstad rounded out the top ranks with a combined 41 points. Welstad, a new face among the Panthers, comes from Glenburn, where he was named to last year’s all-region team.

The Panthers advanced to the next round in the tournament, intensity building, perhaps straining the team’s chemistry as well.

The ratio of attempted shots to shots made fell to 39 percent for two-pointers and 28 percent for three-point shots.

Still, the Panthers eked out a 69-61 win against the Drake-Anamoose Raiders.

The tables would turn when the Panthers faced the Dunseith Dragons.

Dragons Ethan Morin and Chad Parisien fired off two- and three-point shots at the start of the game, with Welstad keeping pace with three baskets of his own. Slaubaugh and Bundy-Smith took advantage of free-throw opportunities, and the Panthers saw a higher percentage in that area than the Dragons.

The Panthers stayed on the Dragons’ tails for much of the first half, which saw the teams trade leads until a basket by Parisien gave the Dragons a 31-29 lead.

The Dragons charged back onto the court for the third quarter, keeping Bundy-Smith, Walker and Slaubaugh surrounded and away from the net. The Panthers managed only nine points in the quarter.

Rugby stormed back in the final eight minutes of the game, scoring 19 points and closing the score gap to 45-47 early in the fourth quarter. The Dragons held on, however, winning with a narrow 61-57 final score.

“One thing about our team is we have plenty of guys who can score, so the more we move the ball, the better we’re going to be,” said Dunseith Coach Eric Morin after the game. “Tonight was excellent. We had excellent ball movement; we shared the ball. We have too many weapons to keep the ball in one place.

“Rugby’s a nice squad. It’s a great program. I have all the respect in the world for them,” Morin added. “Mike Santjer does a very good job with them, and they’re a very good team. They’re going to have a good season.”

“I actually thought this was the best effort that we showed the whole tournament,” Santjer said. “Dunseith is a really good team. They shoot the ball really well and they’ve got a bunch of athletes on their team. I told the guys, basketball season’s a marathon; it’s not a sprint. To lose a game anytime during the year, if you learn something from it, it’s not a bad thing. Obviously, we don’t want to lose, but if we do and we get better from it, that’s okay.”

Santjer added, “We as coaches have to run some offenses that keep the kids moving. We had a tendency to stand right now, because we have five new guys that really haven’t spent a lot of time on the team. We missed our games this summer that we usually play, so it’s different. And we’re going to take a little time to get there, but I think we’ve got a pretty good chance of doing some special things later.”

Santjer said the Panthers were still building chemistry with each other.

“We graduated some kids who had been playing together for years and we’re trying to mesh a little bit. I think we’ll get there,” he added.

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