The Powell High School boys’ basketball was down by seven to its arch-rival, the Cody Broncs, Friday night in Cody. It was the fourth quarter, and the Panthers were plagued by foul trouble, and their top scorer, Kalei Smith, was being held down.
But Powell dug in, played tough defense and found ways to score, turning a 39-32 deficit into a 50-44 win.
“It was one of our biggest wins,” said coach Chase Kistler. “But we have bigger ones in front of us.”
The game was played in front of hundreds of screaming fans, and the emotion was evident, with players diving for loose balls and spending plenty of time on the floor scrambling and wrestling for possession.
Powell played at a frantic pace in the first quarter, taking a 6-2 lead behind buckets from Carter Baxter, Blake Schwan and Garrett Michael. But turnovers, which have plagued the team all season, once again hampered the Panthers, who trailed 10-8 after one period.
Smith and Baxter each picked up three fouls before halftime, and Smith, who has been averaging 19 points a game, had just one basket in the first half. Seven points in the second quarter from Zach Heny, once again proving to be a spark off the bench, and a technical foul against a Cody player allowed Powell to tie the game at 19-19 at the half.
Kistler said he talked to his players about playing under more control in the second half, and both teams were calmer in the third period.
“Yeah, they were hyped up really big,” he said. “I told them to take a deep breath.”
Cody hit four 3-pointers in the period, three by Nik Schmidt, to build a 36-32 lead going into the final quarter. Schmidt, a 6-3 senior, led the Broncs with 18 points.
Powell battled to within 41-38 when Smith got the ball on a breakaway and slammed home his second bucket of the night with 5:30 to play. He hung on the rim for a second, making sure it was safe to come down, and the Powell fans shouted in delight at his aerial work.
From then on, the Panthers outscored Cody 10-3 and seized control of the game. When Hayden Cragoe, who paced Powell with 13 points while adding five rebounds despite playing with three fouls for much of the half, scored with 2:54 to play, the game was knotted at 43-43.
Baxter nailed a three to give Powell the lead and made a gesture showing his confidence as he headed back down the court. The Broncs could not muster a comeback, and when Heny drained a pair of free throws in the closing seconds, Powell had claimed the important win.
Michael, despite playing with four fouls, scored 11 points and added four boards. Baxter and Heny both had 10, and Baxter led the Panthers with six rebounds. Smith scored five points.
“A lot of people think we’re a one-dimensional team,” Kistler said. “I keep telling people — and I keep telling the team — we are a better five-person team than we are a one-person team.”
He used several reserves, in part due to the foul trouble and also because he expected an uptempo game.
“We knew we had to play at a high pace,” Kistler said. “But we are a fourth-quarter team and we showed that again tonight.”
The win puts the Panthers at 8-4 on the season and 4-1 in the 3A West, tying them with Cody in the standings for second behind Lander Valley. The Broncs are now 10-2 on the season.
Powell hosts two games this weekend, taking on Pinedale, which is 0-13, at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Lander Valley, which is 11-2, 5-0 in the conference, at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Kistler said Lander will be a challenge for the Panthers.