The Panthers beat the Wheatland Bulldogs 69-62 on Thursday night but saw their comeback attempt fall just short against Glenrock in the semifinals on Friday before losing to Star Valley in the third-place game on Saturday.
PHS head coach Chase Kistler said Powell, which came seconds away from clinching no worst than second place, did well against the top competition.
“I knew getting through the tournament, or even to the tournament, was going to be difficult,” the first-year coach said. “They never quit in any of the games. We just kind of ran out of steam.”
After junior Kalei Smith led the fourth-seeded Panthers with a tourney-high 35 points against Wheatland, Powell, which played with a seven-man rotation, struggled to find consistent offense, especially from outside.
The Panthers were just 4-for-40 (10 percent) from 3-point range across three games after shooting 34 percent as a team during the regular season.
Kistler said shooting always goes down during tournaments (and specifically in the Casper Events Center) so the poor 3-point percentage wasn’t a total surprise.
“We worked all weekend trying to get as close to the basket as possible,” Kistler said. “My main goal was to work the defense and wait for the open shot, no matter where it would come from. The more you work the defense the tighter they get.”
Powell began the tournament as underdogs against the East’s top-seeded Bulldogs. The quarterfinal matchup pitted Wheatland’s Kendrick Jackson, Class 3A’s top scorer at 21.1 points per game in the regular season, with Powell’s Smith, who came into the tournament second in 3A with 20.3 ppg.
Smith outscored Jackson 35-31, junior Carter Baxter added 14 points and senior Hayden Cragoe scored 13 to lead the Panthers into the semifinals.
The Panther trio scored, which dominated the ball throughout the tournament, scored 62 of Powell’s 69 points.
“We had been waiting for Kalei and Carter and Hayden just to kind of work together as a group of three and take the pressure off just one,” Kistler said. “That was definitely what I was looking for.”
Smith (13 rebounds) and Baxter (12) each came away with a double-double. Cragoe came up just short of a double-double of his own with eight boards.
Junior Zach Heny hit four free throws and senior Cory Heny hit a 3-pointer to round out Powell’s scoring, all of which came from the starting lineup. Smith, Cragoe and Cory Heny played all 32 minutes, Baxter played 28 and Zach Heny 27.
“That wasn’t the game plan but it’s just kind of how it worked out,” Kistler said of sticking with his starting lineup for all but five minutes.
“With as slow of paced as the game was we were able to rest them and keep them out of foul trouble until the very end, and by then it was we might as well just go as long as we possibly can,” the coach said.
The Panthers were down 34-30 at the half, but they had already seen the best of the Wheatland offense.
The Bulldogs were 6-for-12 from the 3-point line in the first half, but cooled down significantly in the second, when they went just 3-for-16.
Jackson scored 22 of Wheatland’s 28 second-half points but couldn’t carry the Bulldogs by himself.
“He’s going to get his points. He’s a great shooter, a great scorer,” Kistler said of Jackson. “In the end we kind of beat up on him all day and we double-teamed him a lot in the box and by the end his free throw shooting was down a little bit. Even his shots, he was hitting some here and there, but not as consistent.”
Jackson shot 11-for-22 for the game, including 6-for-11 from long range (some taken from college and NBA range) and 3-for-7 from the foul line.
“We were kind of riding out that storm with him,” Kistler said.
Smith and Cragoe each had a block and a steal apiece, Cory Heny had two steals while Baxter and Zach Heny each had one steal.
If Powell’s win over Wheatland was a surprise, then Glenrock’s 58-47 victory over Lander in the first round was a complete shocker. The Herders entered the tournament 14-11 overall and just 6-8 in the East, but played well at the regional tournament and earned the East’s No. 3 seed.
“They were the hot team,” Kistler said “They were shooting well above their average and they kind of carried that streak in.”
That hot streak carried the Herders to a dramatic 49-47 win over the Panthers in the semis Friday night at Casper College.
Powell came back from down 16 points late in the third quarter to take a one-point lead with 1:11 left in the game but was unable to score again as the Herders made three free throws in the final 22 seconds to seal the win.
The Panthers went on a 21-4 run in a nine-minute span to close the gap, ending when Cory Heny hit a 3-pointer and Smith sank two free throws to give Powell a 47-46 lead with 1:12 remaining.
Glenrock hit two free throws after Zach Heny was called for a foul as he tried to grab a defensive rebound and the Herders took a 48-47 lead with 22 ticks.
Plenty of time for the Panthers, Kistler said.
Cory Heny took the inbounds pass and raced past half court before calling a timeout. Smith took the ensuing inbounds with 15 seconds left but quickly lost his handle and the ball ended up in the lap of a Glenrock’s Tyler Olsen.
“We drew it up and right out of the gate Kalei had that uncharacteristic turnover there at the end,” Kistler said. “But even then we still had 8 seconds.”
Plenty of time.
The Panthers quickly fouled Olsen, and his missed foul shot fell into the hands of Baxter, who dished it out to Smith.
Smith took the ball from one end to the other, split two defenders in the lane and floated a soft shot towards the hoop. The would-be game winner hit the back of the rim and bounced out.
“We did get a good look,” Kistler said. “And I wouldn’t trust anyone else taking that shot at the end of the game. We just missed the shot.”
Kistler said the team was solemn following the game as the reality of Powell’s dashed title hopes sank in.
“We had high expectations, and we did fall short by two points there against Glenrock and you could kind of tell it did crush them that evening,” Kistler said. “You want nothing more then for the best for your kids and athletes, and they did everything they possibly could to win the game. But sometimes that’s the way it works.”
Glenrock’s Jordan Millay had 17 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Herders. Millay posed a matchup problem for the Panthers, who lack someone that can truly match his big, 6-5 frame in the low post.
Cragoe and Baxter each took turns guarding Millay, and Kistler said both did a good job limiting his effectiveness.
“Hayden does all the dirty work with rebounds and usually defends their best player,” Kistler said.
Cragoe played with three fouls for much of the game and Baxter finished with four, but Kistler said he couldn’t risk saving them for the end while the Panthers were down big.
“I knew it was a risk, but in my head it was just saying, ‘This is it, I can’t save people any longer now in the third and fourth quarter,’” he said.
Smith finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and five steals. Baxter had 10 points, seven rebounds, one assist and a steal. Cragoe scored six points, had five rebounds and a steal. Cory Heny added five points and two boards while Zach Heny and Garrett Michael had four points each.
Kistler also noted that Cory Heny’s defense and experience was critical in keeping the Panthers in the game.
“Cory Heny really played tremendous defense in the second half against Glenrock,” the coach said. “His leadership ability really showed through. He’s a true competitor, he doesn’t quit.”
But the fatigue of a long season coupled with the previous night’s loss may have taken its toll on the Panthers during a 58-51 loss to Star Valley in the third-place game Saturday afternoon at Casper College.
Kistler said his players were quiet all morning, but once at the gym they seemed to be in good spirits. He spoke with them before taking the court.
“This is your last game,” he told them. “There’s nothing else after this, so anything you want to do you better leave it out on the court.”
Powell responded by taking a 13-9 lead after the first quarter, but couldn’t keep the pace in the second and third quarters.
The Panthers were outscored 32-14 in the middle periods before bouncing back with a 24-point fourth quarter. Kistler commended his team for refusing to quit.
“They fought hard that next day,” Kistler said. “It was difficult for them to keep fighting, and they did.”
The team was 16-for-32 on 2-point attempts but just 1-for-13 from long range for a 37.8 percent field goal percentage.
Kistler said that by the time the third tournament game rolls around, “their legs are just not all there.”
Smith went for 18 points and eight rebounds for the second straight game and Cragoe was close behind with 15 points, four boards and three steals.
Baxter notched 10 points and four rebounds before fouling out after 23 minutes on the court.
The game was peppered with questionable calls that drew the ire of both team’s fans.
Kistler said Baxter’s physicality is more apparent than that of other, less imposing players.
“Carter does just play extremely hard,” Kistler said. “And he’s such a strong kid when he does make contact with someone it’s usually pretty noticeable.”
Powell finished the 2013-14 campaign 18-11 overall.
Cody beat Glenrock 61-53 in the Class 3A state title game Saturday afternoon.
BOYS 3A Standings
|3. Star Valley|