In that case, the Powell High School boys basketball team needs to listen more closely for those closing notes. The Panthers struggled to close out a pair of games last weekend, and on Saturday, that problem cost them a win that was in their grasp.
Powell (2-3, 1-1 in conference play) defeated Jackson 62-56 on Friday before falling to Star Valley 56-53 on Saturday afternoon. The loss was particularly difficult to take, since the Panthers held an eight-point lead with a minute to play in regulation.
“We know what we have to do,” said coach Chase Kistler. “We had a slow start and a bad finish.”
Kistler made the same points after Friday’s game, as a comfortable Powell lead was sliced to four in the closing seconds.
“I felt like we controlled the game throughout,” he said. “We just have got to learn to be a little smarter at the end of the game.”
The loss to Star Valley clearly stung, as Powell players and fans seemed stunned at the finish. Star Valley entered the game ranked second in the state, but the Braves had fallen to top-ranked Cody 69-48 Friday night.
The first half started slow, with neither team scoring at a rapid pace. But junior guard Kalei Smith sparked the Panthers in the third period, firing up the gym with a dunk to seize the momentum.
A technical foul against the Braves for not having a player listed in the scorebook also helped Powell grab the advantage.
Smith continued to score on a series of drives, but the Braves often answered from the outside. Junior forward Carter Baxter also added points for the Panthers, and junior guard Zach Heny provided a spark off the bench.
Powell slowly built a lead in the fourth period, with senior forward Garrett Michael scoring four points and Baxter and Smith chipping in as well. With less than a minute to play, and Powell up 46-38. the game seemed in the bag.
That’s when almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
Senior guards Hayden Cragoe and Blake Schwan both fouled out. When Powell was fouled, it failed at the line, missing five of six free throws.
“We put the right guy on the line,” Kistler said, noting Smith was handling the ball and was fouled twice in the closing seconds. “Nine out of 10 times, he makes those.”
Finally, with less than 6 seconds on the clock, the Panthers threw away the inbounds pass and, in an eerie replay of the end of the state title game this spring, Star Valley hit a clutch shot at the buzzer, as Robby Smith nailed a jumper to tie the game at 47-47.
Star Valley fans erupted in cheers, and the Braves carried that emotion into overtime. With 1:22 to play, the Braves had a five-point edge. Powell rallied, however, and cut the lead to one before losing by three.
Smith paced the Panthers with 20 points. Baxter added 10, Michael had eight and Heny scored six.
On Friday night, a small crowd greeted the Panthers for the conference and home opener.
It was a high-scoring affair, punctuated by the near-constant sound of whistles from the referees.
The acrobatic Smith hit spinning shots and twisting drives and scored 19 points in the first half. Powell had an 11-point edge at one point but went into the half up by five.
Jeremy Shockley was hot from the outside and helped keep Jackson in the game. Shockley ended up with 15 points. Powell stayed cold until Michael picked up a loose ball and scored to make it 37-35.
The burly senior forward pulled down 20 rebounds and added 12 points. Baxter, who ended the game with 17, scored eight points in the third period as Powell built a 45-37 edge.
When Cragoe hit his first bucket, a driving left-handed scoop shot, and added a free throw, the score was 56-46 with 3:11 to play and the Panthers seemed ready to grab their second win of the season.
But Shockley kept shooting, and when he hit a shot with 54.4 seconds to play, the Braves had pulled within six. Another turnover — a consistent problem for the Panthers as they struggle without senior floor leader Cory Heny — helped cut the lead to 60-56.
But the Panthers added a bucket and held on for the six-point win.
Smith paced the Panthers with 25 points.
“To ask much more of him would be crazy from any coach,” Kistler said. “And he played amazingly on defense. He did it all over the court.”
The coach said Michael’s work inside was impressive, and said 20 boards in one game had to be “up there” in school history.
“I knew he was being an animal on the rebounds in there,” Kistler said. “It pays to get those extra putbacks. We understand that’s how we’re going to get rebounds this year.”
Powell will play in the Big Horn Basin Tournament on Friday and Saturday. Kistler said the schedule calls for one game on Friday and two on Saturday.