TEMPE - When Danny Powell loosened his grip, the Desert Vista boys basketball season changed for the better.
There was a time, especially early in the season, where the Thunder senior forward controlled just about everything Desert Vista did.
Fortunately, he was one of the better players in the state so the Thunder could beat most teams, but they didn't become who they are today - state semifinalists - until Powell let the team grow instead of his statistics.
The new approach was evident in Tuesday's 53-50 win over No. 4 Gilbert in the Division I state quarterfinals at Arizona State's Wells Fargo Arena.
The No. 5 Thunder advance to Thursday's 7:45 p.m. semifinals at Jobing.com Arena and take on No. 1 Corona del Sol.
"Danny Powell is playing basketball liked we asked him to do all year," Thunder coach Dave Williams said. "He stopped trying to be the whole show. We know you are the best player in the state, but we had to get everybody to play together."
Powell still finished with a game-high 24 points and 10 rebounds, but it was hardly a one-man show.
Senior guard Jeff Lowery was slashing to the basket and hitting buzzer beaters; junior guard John Marshal was a pest, getting important steals and rebounds to frustrate Gilbert (21-7) and Kyle Pitman made a key free with 21.4 seconds left for a 49-45 lead.
"Everyone has been stepping up," Powell said. "They've all gotten better and comfortable with their role and what they need to do. They've basically brought us to this point right here."
Lowery finished with 15 points including a 3-point as the buzzer sounded at the end of the first quarter to close within 11-8 and then connected on a crucial 15-footer with a 1:02 remaining to give the Thunder the lead, 46-45, for good.
"Jeff Lowery has expanded his role and playing at a different level," said Williams, who got emotional afterward thinking about his father, Reverend Paul Williams, and his illness. "That's a huge boost for us right there."
Marshall was all over the place, scoring seven points with five steals and four rebounds.
"Every possession counted today," he said. "We have to keep it up with more energy and playing as a team."
The Tigers led at the half, 23-22, but the Thunder controlled the third quarter with a 14-9 scoring advantage. Gilbert still had its chances down the stretch but missed some key shots as Eric Crawford (21 points) missed an open 3-pointer with the team trailing 46-45.
Marshall got to the rebound and was fouled. He had been 1 for 4 from the free-throw line, but stepped up and sank both in a 1-and-1 situation to push the lead to four, 48-45.
Gilbert was back within 51-50 when Conner Helvig hit a 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds left but Lowery made his two free throws to end the scoring.
During the celebration it is clear the in-fighting was behind the Thunder.
"Every coach and player has their differences and arguments at times, but you work through it and work hard," Powell said. "It is how you became a championship team and a championship player."
Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.