“We’re still a work in progress but we feel good about where we’re at right now,” said Powell head coach Mike Heny.
Friday’s opener against the Broncs saw the Panthers overcome a slow start to win big.
After falling behind 7-2 early on, the Panthers went on a 10-0 run to lead 12-7 with two minutes left in the first quarter. They never trailed again.
Jackson would cut it to two by halftime and then pulled within one, 33-32, midway through the third quarter but Powell was back to a five-point lead to begin the fourth.
“That’s one thing you want to eliminate,” Heny said of letting Jackson back into the game. “You either need to extend the lead or hold them.”
Though it was unnecessary as the Broncs would score only four more points, the Panthers added 14 in the game’s final frame.
“We did a lot better job of following the game plan against Jackson,” Heny said. “We were aggressive, we got to the basket, we got to the free throw line.”
Senior guard Marshall McArthur led the Panthers with 17 points against Jackson, and iced the game with two big plays. McArthur was fouled during a successful layup attempt and completed the 3-point play with about four minutes remaining in the game. Shortly thereafter McArthur blocked a Jackson 3-point attempt, gathered the loose ball and made a breakaway layup to put Powell up 36-34.
Sophomore guard Kalei Smith made two of four 3-point attempts on his way to 14 points and two steals. Junior forward Hayden Cragoe scored five of his seven points from the free-throw line and added three rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
Senior guard Justin Lynn didn’t score but grabbed eight rebounds, an assist, steal and a block. Sophomore forward Carter Baxter tallied six points, six rebounds, two assists and a block.
Heny said his team played better against Jackson than Star Valley, but still didn’t play near its potential, committing too many turnovers (19) and having too many offensive lulls.
“Even though we played well and pulled away and won by 15, we probably could have won by more,” Heny said. “We certainly have not played our best basketball by a long shot.”
Their best certainly didn’t come through on Saturday.
The Panthers struggled in almost every facet of the game against the Braves.
On the offensive end the Panther’s offense failed to find a rhythm.
“It was just a little harder for us to get to the basket,” Heny said. “We got on our heels a bit and we did start settling. Give a lot of credit to Star Valley, they are a good, tough, quick defensive team.”
McArthur scored just six points in a frustrating effort.
“He’s going to get the best defender every night,” Heny said. “He realized he didn’t play his best and he’s capable of a lot more.”
McArthur’s effectiveness versus Jackson was largely based on his ability to penetrate the lane, draw fouls and score from the free throw line. McArthur was seven-of-eight from the line Friday night, but only one-of-two the next day against the Braves.
Powell settled for a lot of perimeter jumpers against the Braves. The Panthers shot just 36 percent from the field including just three-for-12 from beyond the arc. Playing from behind, the Panthers were forced to attempt more 3-pointers against the Braves. Powell was three-for-seven from downtown Friday against Jackson.
Heny said Star Valley’s tough defense was set up by its effective offense.
“They’re going to execute offense until they get the shot they want,” Heny said.
Powell would play good defense for the most part, Heny said, but the Braves would bide their time and wait for the Panthers to make just one defensive mistake.
“It’s frustrating and I think that maybe led to some of our quick shots at the other end,” Heny said.
One positive that Heny noted was the apparent resolution to the team’s opening-weekend free throw woes. After shooting just 52 percent in three games at the Buffalo Invitational, Powell shot 18-for-22 from the charity stripe in their two games this weekend.
The Panthers managed to cut down on their turnovers against Star Valley, committing 14 after handing the ball to the Broncs 19 times.
The full-court press gave Powell troubles both games.
“We weren’t aggressive with it,” Heny said of Powell’s attempt to break the press. “We had some guys who weren’t getting to the right spots…we got on our heels and we didn’t attack.”
The team will watch film and learn what areas of the floor to attack to beat the press, Heny said.
Despite the 20-point loss, coach Heny said it’s much too early to hit the panic button.
“It was good for us to learn some things from that game. I don’t think Star Valley is 20 points better than us,” Heny said. “I told the kids in the locker room afterward, ‘it’s Dec. 8, we’re 1-1.’ Star Valley was better than us on Friday, no question, but next time we play them we’re going to continue to get better and shoot the ball better.”