That’s the question that could haunt Powell High School head coach Mike Heny and the members of his Panther boys’ basketball team this off-season. It was the question Panther fans were asking after a mind-numbing 24-hour period saw the team go from the verge of a regional title game appearance to being left out of the 3A state tournament field altogether.
The Panthers entered the weekend as the No. 2 seed in the 3A West tournament. After an opening-round win over Mountain View, the team lost back-to-back games to Cody and Lyman to wrap up their season with a 13-11 record.
Of those contests, it will be the Panthers’ semifinal game Friday night against Park County rival Cody that folks will be talking about the longest.
After a first half that saw the Panthers and Broncs combine for 14 turnovers and just 19 points, the Panthers came out on fire to open the second half. Chase Partridge connected on three 3-point buckets and Marshall McArthur added a fourth as the Panthers transformed a 10-9 halftime lead into a 24-11 gap just minutes into the second half.
In a contest where offense came at a premium, it appeared to be an insurmountable margin. In reality, the Panthers’ lead wouldn’t even survive the third quarter.
After shooting the Broncs out of their zone defense, Powell turned the ball over on six consecutive possessions. By the time the Panthers were able to attempt their next shot, the 13-point lead had been whittled to three points. Cody hit a shot just before the third quarter buzzer to complete a 14-0 run and take its first lead since 4-2 in the first quarter.
As he had done following the half, Partridge, who finished with a team-best 22 points in the contest, canned a 3-pointer on Powell’s first possession of the quarter. McArthur followed with one a minute later to sway momentum back in Powell’s favor.
Jake Beuster sandwiched a pair of buckets around a pair of Josh Cragoe free throws to give Powell a 36-34 lead with 3:45 remaining. Neither team would score again until Partridge hit a shot that put Powell ahead by four points with 70 seconds remaining.
Cody scored on its next possession to trim the gap to two. That bucket triggered a string of four consecutive missed free throws with under 50 seconds remaining in the contest by the Panthers.
The Broncs weren’t faring much better though. Cody pulled within a point, 38-37, with 39 seconds remaining by hitting the front end of a 1-and-1 opportunity. Fourteen seconds later, the team misfired on a pair of foul shots, allowing Powell fans a momentary exhale of relief.
Two more free throw misses by the Panthers with 20 seconds to play set the stage for Cody to connect on the game-winning shot in the lane. Powell’s attempt to go the length of the floor in less than six seconds failed to produce any buzzer-beating magic.
The after-effects of the stunning loss were clearly with Powell as the team took the floor Saturday against Lyman. The Panthers watched as Lyman scored 17 of the game’s first 20 points as the Eagles raced to a 22-6 first-quarter advantage.
The gap ran to 31-13 in the second quarter before Powell mounted a rally, ironically from the free throw line. The Panthers connected on 12 of 15 foul shots in the final three minutes of the first half to lop Lyman’s lead to 32-29 at halftime.
Zane Bushnell’s early third quarter trey completed the Panthers’ climb out of an 18-point hole and re-established equality on the scoreboard at 34-34. Similar to the night before though, Powell closed the third period on a fade.
After watching their lead evaporate, the Eagles outscored Powell 16-2 over the remainder of the third quarter. Powell mounted one final challenge, hacking Lyman’s 12-point lead with three minutes remaining down to four points following a Cragoe put-back with 52 seconds remaining.
Those would be the Panthers’ final points though. Lyman hit four free throws to seal a 67-59.
Powell’s lone regional tournament victory came in the opening round. After a sluggish start that saw the Panthers score just three points in the first quarter, Powell dominated play over the final 24 minues en route to a 51-32 victory over Mountain View.
Beuster led a balanced Powell scorebook with 12 points in the win. Cooper Wise added 10 points while McArthur and Bushnell knocked down nine points apiece.