While the start of the Region 7 boys basketball tournament is less than four weeks away, whenever Beulah and Dickinson Trinity clash, the atmosphere inside of the gymnasium is nothing short of postseason-like intensity, as was the case on Thursday, Jan. 31, from a jammed-packed Knights of Columbus Activities Center.
The Miners controlled the action in the first half, but thanks to the work of junior guards Matthew Stafford, Bryant Merry and a smothering defense, the Titans outscored their opponent by 21 points in the second half en route to a 58-46 victory.
It is Beulah's first conference loss of the season joining a group of four schools, including Dickinson Trinity, with only one blemish during Region 7 play.
"This region is up for grabs, I don't think there is anybody that is head-and-shoulders above anybody," Titans head coach Gregg Grinsteinner said. "There's five, six, seven teams that can get hot and can put three games together at tournament time. ... We're happy where we're at, it's a good win, but this isn't the end of the season. We have to get better at tournament time."
With his team down 31-22 entering the second half, Stafford immediately provided a spark by scoring nine of the Titans' first 10 points in the third quarter. After a connecting on a mid-range jump shot, Stafford converted a three-point play, pulling the home team to within four, 31-27. The junior continued attacking, this time from the baseline, as another jumper and a floater cut Beulah's lead to 35-32.
"The coaches said that if you see gaps, start attacking it," Stafford said. "I saw gaps, started to attack it and good things came from it."
With the Miners on top 37-35, it was Merry's turn to briefly take over, stealing the ball from a Beulah ball handler at half court and putting in the game-tying layup with one minute and 29 seconds remaining in the frame. Following an empty Miners possession, Trinity took its first lead since the first quarter when Merry drove hard into the lane for the go-ahead basket.
The Miners looked to regain the momentum the next time up the floor, but Merry drew a charge near the paint, electrifying the crowd.
"I just tried to play my game," Merry said. "My role is usually just to get the other people open, and I did that, but when my opportunity came, I took advantage of it."
Turning a nine-point deficit into a four-point advantage at the end of the third, Stafford helped the Titans put away the Miners from the outside. Working off screens on the perimeter, the 6-foot-2 guard knocked down three 3-pointers in the fourth. With many of his shots touching nothing but the net, Stafford's scoring binge included a long-distance mark at the top of the key to make it 49-41.
He finished with a game-high 23 points, 18 coming in the second half.
"I felt like I was getting in a rhythm. My teammates just set good screens and I came off of them, I was open and I shot the ball. And it went in," Stafford said.
Dickinson Trinity rolled to 50 percent shooting from the field in the second half, juxtaposed to Beulah putting up that same number in the first half. The Miners often utilized a high-ball screen to free freshman guard Trey Brandt and senior forward Chad Morsette Jr. The duo dominated the action early as Morsette Jr. nailed a pull-up to give the road team a 20-13 lead after the first quarter.
In the following frame, Brandt sliced into the lane and scored with a slick left-handed scoop shot off the glass, extending the advantage to 24-16. To that point, the two players accounted for all of the Miners scoring, and it wasn't until a shot inside from senior guard Shaye Yeager with 4:45 left in the half that someone else in blue and yellow entered the scoring column.
"They played well," Miners head coach Jeremy Brandt said of Morsette Jr. and Trey Brandt. "But that's not necessarily a good thing because we need more people to contribute. It's nice to see how they carried us in the first half, but in the second half we needed more guys to contribute, especially when they started to trap the ball."
Beulah wasn't at full capacity as four players were out with the flu. At the end of the second quarter and in the second half, the Titans took advantage by picking up their opponent in the full court. In the half court, Dickinson Trinity did a better job limiting driving lanes as Trey Brandt and Morsette Jr. were met by multiple defenders whenever they penetrated.
Putting up 31 points in the first half, the Miners only scored 15 in the second on 6-for-19 from the field.
"We had a poor start to the second half, and I think that's ultimately what got us," Jeremy Brandt said. "I thought we looked a little tired. We're missing four kids tonight who are out with sickness, so we're a little short-handed and I thought our kids looked a little tired."
Dickinson Trinity 58, Beulah 46
B 20 11 6 9
DT 13 9 19 17
B: Chad Morsette Jr. 17, Trey Brandt 15, Shaye Yeager 6, Jonah Larson 4, Joe Hager 2, Kaleb McGraw 2.
DT: Matthew Stafford 23, Bryant Merry 9, Cole Fitterer 8, Aric Knopik 8, Jake Daniel 6, Isaac Fridrich 3, Seth Herner 1.
3-pointers: B 4 (Morsette Jr. 3), DT 5 (Stafford 4). Free throws: B 8-13, DT 15-18. Total fouls: B 15, DT 18. Rebounds: B 24 (Larson 6, Brandt 6), DT 29 (Knopik 10). Assists: B 5 (Larson 2, Hager 2), DT 7 (Merry 2, Fitterer 2). Steals: B 7 (Larson 2, Morsette Jr. 2, Brandt 2), DT 4 (Stafford 2). Blocks: B 1 (Larson), DT 3 (Knopik, Herner, Tanner Soehren). Turnovers: B 13, DT 7. Records: B 9-4 (Region 7 6-1), DT 12-4 (Region 7 6-1).