Coming off an upset win over 4A cross-county rival Cody earlier this month, the Powell High School boys’ basketball team was looking to build on that momentum.
The 3A Panthers (2-3) did just that last Friday, beating a solid Wyoming Indian squad in their home opener 57-45 for their second win of the season. It was the first-ever meeting of the two teams, and the Chiefs’ fan base showed a willingness to travel, filling the visitor’s section of Panther Gym.
The Chiefs (5-3) came into the contest ranked third in Class 2A and riding a three-game win streak. The two teams played back and forth for much of the first two periods, with Powell going into the half leading 28-25. Junior Jesse Brown paced the Panthers in the first half with nine points, while the Chiefs’ Derek Nipwater also had nine points. The Chiefs had the hot hand from behind the arc in the game’s first 16 minutes, sinking seven 3-pointers.
Powell began to pull away in the second half, at one point running their lead to 15 points behind solid play from the bench in the third period. Landon Lengfelder, Mason Marchant and Dalton Woodward helped put the lead at 44-36 by the end of the third.
The Chiefs continued to attack from the perimeter in the fourth, sinking three 3-pointers. But the Panther defense proved stingy, with solid defensive play and rebounding off the bench by Carson Olsen. Kaelan Groves and Carson Heinen came up with some big shots of their own to close out the double-digit win.
“We knew one of the keys to winning was that we had to take some shots, then we had to go after boards and get a second shot,” Panther head coach Chase Kistler told KPOW radio after the game. “Then down on their end, we had to keep them off the boards. They’re a good shooting team, and they get up and down the floor quick. If you let them catch fire, it can be game over for you pretty quick. So they [the Panthers] did great on the boards.”
PHS was also effective in breaking Wyoming Indian’s press — a key factor in the game from an offensive standpoint.
“They didn’t like playing defense on the backside, and once we broke the press and took it to the rim, we found a lot of success doing that,” Kistler said.
Powell shot 50 percent from the floor, hitting 25 of 50 shots, compared to 40 percent for Wyoming Indian.
“I liked how we were definitely more aggressive with the ball,” Kistler said on KPOW. “Toward the end, we were getting a little greedy with it. But I definitely thought we took care of the ball when we had to, and we took shots we knew we could handle.”
Brown was the only Panther in double figures, finishing with 13 points. Groves netted nine points, while Heinen chipped in eight. Lengfelder and Marchant each had six points off the bench, with Woodward also finishing with six. Kistler said on KPOW that he was pleased with how his team continues to spread the ball around, keeping opposing defenses from keying on one player.
“It doesn’t have to be one person carrying the load, we don’t need one person scoring 25 points,” the coach said. “It’s a lot harder to play defense when you have three or four guys that can shoot shots from all over. We’ve got guys who can get the ball to the room, we’ve got guys who can shoot from the outside. They shoot their free throws well. We have a lot of combinations of guys that can score baskets.”
Nipwater and Austin Hill finished with nine points each to lead the Chiefs, both hitting three 3-pointers.
Coming out of the holiday break, the Panthers will be at home, hosting Rocky Mountain on Friday, Jan. 4. The team then heads to Thermopolis for the Big Horn Basin Classic the following week, Jan. 11-12.
“We’ve got a couple of weeks out of break to get back into our rhythm,” Kistler said. “I think our guys are excited; they have some confidence going. I’m just hoping to get them back into the gym after break and get back after it.”