PHOENIX - In a matchup of the state's top-ranked Class 5A Division I teams in power rankings Friday, Desert Vista rode its momentum to an emphatic 76-56 win at St Mary's.
It was the seventh straight win for Desert Vista (15-3) and on this night a smothering defense led the way.
In an attempt to slow down St. Mary's forward Chris Mason, the Thunder went to a 2-3 zone.
"We knew that if Mason got the second pass, he could beat any of our guys one-on-one. So we went to a 2-3 matchup tonight," Desert Vista coach Dave Williams said. "That kid is pretty tough."
The Thunder, ranked No. 2 in power rankings, held Mason, who is averaging 18.6 points per game, to just 12 points.
The Thunder began to pull away late in the third quarter.
As Desert Vista's Danny Powell got into a rhythm, so did the Thunder offense. Fourth-ranked St. Mary's (7-7) was able contain the Thunder's leading scorer to just six points in the first half. The game was tied 26-26 at the half with both defenses shutting down the opponent's offensive stars.
In the second half, however, Powell exploded for 17 points by heeding his coach's words and trusting his teammates.
"I started slow in the first half, but I knew my teammates would pick me up and it started to come around in the second half," Powell said. "I just stayed patient like Coach tells me."
Powell played the role of closer, garnering 10 points in the fourth quarter and making key assists to put the game out of reach. He led the Thunder with 23 points, two above his season average, while Jeff Lowery added 11 points.
The Knights were led by leading scorer Bryan Rhymes, who averages 19.5 points per game. In the first half he was held to six points, but began to assert himself in the third quarter.
Rhymes scored the first 10 points of the third quarter for the Knights to keep them in the game and he finished with 20 points.
"We had our hands full with the Rhymes. He can shoot from the parking lot," said Williams. "We stayed in his face tonight and it worked out pretty good."
St. Mary's falls to the .500 mark as its struggles continued. It was the team's fifth straight defeat, the longest losing streak the program has seen since 2007.
The Knights briefly led at the beginning of the second quarter until their free-throw shooting let them down.
St. Mary's was fouled in three of its first four possessions of the second quarter but the Knights missed the front end on all three 1-and -1 attempts and did not score until there was only 3:33 left in the half.
With the help of poor free-throw shooting, Desert Vista went on a 13-2 run to take a 24-16 lead. However, in the last two minutes of the half St. Mary's went on a run of its own to tie the score 26-26 at intermission.
The second half was much of the same for St. Mary's on offense as Mason never got into a rhythm.
"Chris Mason is a great player and we focused on taking away his inside game," Powell said. "We deterred his shots and got the job done."
It was just the opposite for Desert Vista's big man. Powell made his impact in the second half with a strong inside game.
"Danny's been averaging a lot of baskets. He was hurting because he's so hungry," said Williams. "He did the right things tonight. At first he was kind of forcing it and then he took his time and played the right way."
It was a big non-region road win for the Thunder, who now gear up for region play. Desert Vista hopes to ride this momentum into more victories.
"St. Mary's is tough at home. For us to come in an win by 20 at their house says a lot," Williams said.
Kemp is an Arizona State freshman majoring in journalism.