The Panthers jumped to a 15-0 lead over a winless Pinedale squad Friday night and cruised to a 69-35 win at the Panther Gym. That put Powell into a first-place tie in the Class 3A West with Lander Valley.
On Saturday afternoon, the Panthers fell behind 12-0 and, despite another furious fourth-quarter rally, fell 63-50 to the Tigers.
Junior guard Kalei Smith had an impressive game on Saturday, scoring 30 points, and exciting the crowd with a pair of dunks as Powell attempted to come back from a large deficit and steal the win.
But the balanced attack that had sparked them to an eight-game winning streak was not evident. The Panthers repeatedly missed layups and short shots that had them frustrated and shaking their heads.
Powell was plagued with foul trouble and juniors Carter Baxter and Zach Heny, who have been dependable scorers, both fouled out. Baxter, a starter, was in and out of the game repeatedly, although he was second in the team with eight points. Smith and senior Hayden Cragoe both finished with four fouls.
Cragoe and Blake Schwan both scored four points and Garrett Michael added three while contending with Lander’s tall and talented front line. Michael and Cragoe paced Powell with six rebounds each.
“We just dug ourselves too big a hole,” coach Chase Kistler said of his team’s rally. “It was too late.”
Lander, which is ranked second in the state but fell to Cody Friday night, came out ready to salvage a game in its long weekend road trip. The Tigers pounded the ball inside early, and junior Cooxooeii Black, who is listed at 6-3 but looks and plays taller, repeatedly scored. Black paced Lander with 15 points and seven boards.
Sophomore guard Kobey Simpson chipped in 14, including several points in the fourth period to stem Powell’s rally, and senior Casey Winger, a 6-3 forward, scored from the inside and outside as he added 12 points.
Kistler was clearly upset after the loss.
“Who wouldn’t be?” he said.
“We couldn’t find the bottom of the basket if it stared us in the face,” Kistler said. “We didn’t make our free throws, got into foul trouble and dug ourselves a hole we couldn’t get out of.”
The Panthers are now 9-5 overall and 5-2 in the conference, with both conference losses coming on home games played on Saturday afternoons.
Kistler said he told the players they needed to adopt a “business-like attitude” from now on, since they have a “hard road ahead of us.”
Against Pinedale, the Panthers’ dominant start removed any doubt, if there was any coming in, on the outcome of the contest.
Baxter scored 15 points, led Powell with nine rebounds, and played well all over the court, and Smith added 12 points while also distributing the ball to his teammates. Schwan added 14, and continued to be a threat from outside, while Heny had 13 off the bench.
Cragoe, although he fouled out midway through the fourth period, was once again a presence all over the court, hustling, blocking shots — he leads the state in that stat — making passes, steals and chipping in eight point and six rebounds.
Jordan Costello helped end the scoreless skein for Pinedale, hitting a 3-pointer and then adding a pair of free throws to make it 15-5. He had 10 points in the first half, and 17 in the game to lead the young, undersized Wranglers.
Kistler, with the big lead and the big game ahead, used his bench freely, a change from earlier in the season when in some games only six players saw time on the court.
Powell held a 34-17 lead at the break and continued to build its lead throughout the second half as the Panthers used a variety of lineups.
“It was what we needed to do,” Kistler said. “We controlled the tempo of the game.”
Powell is back on the road this weekend, taking on Star Valley, which defeated Powell in an overtime thriller on Dec. 14, Friday night, and then playing Jackson Hole, which Powell defeated Dec. 13, on Saturday afternoon.