Powell (5-2, 7-6) came out firing against the Wranglers, and had a double-digit lead by the end of the first quarter.
The pace slowed down in the second quarter, which saw head coach Mike Heny rest some starters for a few minutes before bringing them in to finish the half.
Even with the comfortable lead, Heny called a time out following some sloppy play from his team.
Heny said his team failed to match up on defense and he needed them to refocus.
“You always try to make sure you play your best regardless of who you’re playing,” Heny said. “We wanted to make sure we played hard for four quarters.”
The Panthers outscored the Wranglers 11-10 in the second to take a 30-19 lead into the locker room.
His players must have heeded Heny’s words because Powell opened the second half like it did the first, but with even better defense. The Panthers gave no space for the Wrangler ball-handlers to maneuver, and forced multiple turnovers that led to easy transition buckets at the other end. An 18-5 Panthers run blew the game open and gave Powell a 48-24 lead heading into the game’s final frame.
With the game well in hand, Heny called a timeout to give some extra minutes to the team’s younger reserve players.
Matt Sweet and Forrest Christensen entered the game with two minutes remaining, much to the crowd’s delight.
Christensen made his first bucket of the season when he caught a pass near the elbow, pivoted and sank a 14-foot jumper. Despite pleas from the student-section to shoot every time he touched the ball, Sweet played it smart and didn’t force a three with his team up almost 30 points.
“Those guys practice hard too,” Heny said. “(Playing time) is a chance for them to get in and see what they can do against guys they might play against next year.”
Junior forward Hayden Cragoe led the Panthers in scoring with a season-high 21 points. Cragoe has scored at least 10 points in the past three games.
Heny said Cragoe’s recent offensive surge is likely due to him finally getting comfortable in the offense after missing pre-season practices while he led the Panthers football team to a second-consecutive state title. Cragoe has been strong on defense and on the glass all season but adding another scoring option for the Panthers could prove to be huge.
Sophomore Kalei Smith added 14, and senior Marshall McArthur and junior Cory Heny each had 11 against the Wranglers.
Friday night’s game against Lander began with the Panther defense leading Powell to a 10-6 advantage at the end of the first quarter. But the Tigers would increase their scoring output in each successive quarter. Lander scored six in the first, 13 in the second, 17 in the third and 19 in the fourth.
Powell’s zone stifled Lander’s offense in the first, preventing the Tigers from getting easy buckets from their 6-foot-7 forward, Lucas Watkins. Watkins had only eight points in the game.
It was the rest of Lander’s offense that Powell had trouble stopping.
“They moved the ball well and we got caught out of rotation a few times,” Heny said.
Heny said Lander’s three-quarter offensive onslaught wasn’t so much what the Panthers didn’t do, but what the Tigers did do.
“They shot the ball extremely well. Better than they have all year,” Heny said.
Lander executed on the defensive end of the floor as well. The Tigers’ zone defense limited Powell to perimeter shots on what would be a poor shooting night for the Panthers.
“That’s probably the best zone we’ve seen all year,” Heny said. “They got to our shooters and that’s something we’re going to have to look at and make some adjustments.”
With McArthur on the bench to begin the second quarter, the Panthers couldn’t generate any offense and allowed two quick Lander field goals which tied the game at 10 apiece.
McArthur, who led the Panthers with 14 points, checked into the game and immediately put Powell back on top. After grabbing a defensive rebound, Powell’s leading scorer handled the ball seamlessly from one end of the court to the other to lay it in and give the Panthers a 12-10 lead with five minutes remaining in the half.
The offense stalled yet again though, and a three minute Powell scoreless streak allowed Lander to regain the lead, 14-12.
Back on offense, McArthur controlled the ball in the left corner. After multiple ball fakes he found Smith at the low block on the opposite side of the key with an over-the-head cross-court pass for one of his most impressive assists.
With less than 30 seconds left in the half Cragoe hit both shots of a 1-and-1 to break a 16-16 tie and put the Panthers up by two. Cragoe scored 10 points and was the only Panther other than McArthur to score in double-digits.
Powell was just a few moments of defense away from ending the half with the lead but, a Lander 3-pointer with five seconds on the clock put the Tigers up by one after two quarters.
The first minutes of the game’s latter half were ultimately what did the Panthers in.
Two quick turnovers led to five-straight Lander points, making the score 24-18.
Vince Sleep would respond with a layup at the other end to bring Powell back within four, but that was as small as the deficit would get.
Watkins drew shooting fouls on back-to-back possessions and hit 3-of-4 free throws to extend Lander’s lead to seven.
A beautiful Heny-to-Sleep-to-Cragoe passing sequence led to an easy lay-in to cut the lead back down to five, but the Tigers responded with a 3-pointer to go back up eight and prompted Heny to call a timeout.
Lander’s scoring output in the game’s final quarter was in large part due to converting the free throw attempts given to them by a Powell team desperate to slow the game down and regain possession. Lander was 16-of-26 from the line. Powell was 9-of-10.
McArthur gave Panthers fans one last ray of hope when he banked in a three with 1:52 remaining, making the score 43-37 and a two-possession game. But Powell was unable to force a turnover and was eventually forced to foul, allowing Lander to ice the game.
Heny said Lander deserves credit for the win.
“They just out-played us,” he said. “They took it from us.”
The Panthers remain in third place in the class 3A West conference, a half-game behind 6-2 Lyman and two games behind the undefeated Star Valley Braves.
Powell will travel to No.1 Star Valley on Friday, then to Jackson on Saturday. Powell lost to Star Valley 59-39 in their first meeting Dec. 8, and beat Jackson 51-36 Dec. 7.