“We went through some stretches where we just didn’t play very good defense,” said Panthers head coach Mike Heny.
Senior Marshall McArthur led the Panthers in scoring with 19 points, but shot only 28 percent from the field, including 0-for-4 from the 3-point line. He also turned the ball over a team-high five times, compared to only three assists.
But the low assist total was indicative more of Powell’s shooting woes than McArthur’s ability to run the offense.
As was the case during the Panthers’ previous game against the Star Valley Braves, Powell often looked to score from the perimeter, shooting 13 3-pointers but making only two.
“We just didn’t shoot the ball very well. Not like we can,” Heny said. “We had a lot of clean looks we just didn’t make any.”
Senior Bulldog forward Cody Savage, listed at 6-6, created mismatches defensively for the Panthers all night, causing Powell’s junior forward Hayden Cragoe to commit fouls early and often. Cragoe would watch the game’s end from the bench after fouling out in the fourth.
Savage, meanwhile, went on to score 22 points on six-for-nine shooting, including one 3-pointer, plus nine made free throws on 14 attempts.
Down six after the first quarter, Powell turned it on in the second, outscoring Lovell 19-12 to take a 28-27 lead into the locker rooms at the half.
But the momentum wouldn’t carry over to the second half, as the Panthers gave up 16 points to the Bulldogs, falling behind by three in the game’s final frame.
The Panthers’ most momentous rally came late in the fourth quarter as they tried to dig themselves out of the hole they just created.
Down 51-42 with five minutes left in the game, two quick steals and breakaway lay ups by McArthur and then Vince Sleep, respectively, brought the Panthers, and their fans, back into the game.
“We just kind of picked up the intensity there for a while,” Heny said. “I’ll never question this group’s effort, they give it everything they got.”
But Lovell quickly responded with a 3-pointer to push the lead back up to eight.
Attacking the basket all game long, McArthur drew a foul and hit two free throws with about three minutes left to make the score 54-48. He finished the game with nine made free throws on 10 attempts.
On Lovell’s ensuing possession junior guard Cory Heny came up with yet another Panthers steal and was fouled at the other end. He missed both free throws, and Sleep’s offensive rebound was unable to result in points.
Powell’s aggressive defense continued to pay off as another Lovell turnover resulted in a McArthur tip-in put back to bring Powell within striking distance down four, 54-50.
“When we’re aggressive and getting steals and converting, we’re a tough team to beat,” Heny said.
But the Panthers would not score again.
Perhaps sensing the momentum and score tilting in Powell’s favor, the Bulldogs went back to their dominating big man to ice the game.
Headed to the rim with ball in hand, Savage was met by Cragoe, who was called for his fifth personal foul, tossing him from the game. A half-moment later, another whistle blew. On his way off the court Cragoe’s vocal displeasure with the foul call earned him a technical. Cragoe walked off the court with his jersey held over his face.
Savage hit all three foul shots, and then scored again on Lovell’s ensuing possession.
Heny described the five-point play as a “backbreaker.”
Savage would soon sink another pair of free throws to make it seven straight points for the Bulldogs, who extended their four-point lead to 11 in less than two minutes, and put the game out of reach.
Heny said Savage is better than most big men the Panthers face in class 3A.
“He’s really quick off that first step,” Heny said. “He’s really big and strong (and) he can also step back and shoot.”
But it wasn’t Savage, who scored his season average, who hurt the Panthers, Heny said. Senior forward Ryan Clark, who averaged just seven points a game for the Bulldogs coming into Thursday’s contest, dropped 17 on Powell.
The first half was largely a free throw contest, with each team trading fouls and opportunities for free points, with the final five points of the half coming at the line.
The teams combined for a total of 59 free throw attempts during the flow-less game. Powell shot 67 percent from the line, converting on 18 of 27 attempts while Lovell made only 17 of their 32 foul shots.
The Panthers, who have only one returning starter, now have three weeks of practice to work on offensive execution, shooting and team defense.
“This group of guys isn’t used to playing together,” Heny said.
Heny said the players’ lack of familiarity with each other has hurt them on both ends of the floor.
“If you look at the state rankings we’re towards the bottom in defense, we’re towards the bottom in shooting,” Heny said.
But Heny expects extended time in the gym to help get the offense clicking.
“We have a pretty complicated system and right now the kids aren’t quite getting it,” Heny said. “Execution wise we should be a lot sharper. Hopefully we can get (the players) to understand where to be.”
The extra reps should also help his team of shooters.
“We shoot a lot, but we’ve been scrambling so much to get everything installed so we haven’t been shooting as much as I’d like to in practice.”
The Panthers next play Jan. 4 at Mountain View. The next home game will be Jan. 11 against Cody at 7:30 p.m