If the Payson High School boys' basketball team is to have any chance for victory in this evening's (Friday) hardwood battle against visiting Snowflake, the Horns must solve a pressuring defense that fueled a 74-52 Lobo victory in an earlier matchup. Game time is 7 p.m. in the Wilson dome.
In a tournament meeting of the two teams Dec. 4 at the Ames Ford Shoot Out in Winslow, the Horn offense was no match for the Lobos' aggressive man-to-man defense.
"They pressured the ball and we just couldn't hang with them," PHS coach Randy Wilcox said.
Running almost at will, the Lobos jumped out to an early 18-8 lead and coasted to a 32-13 halftime cushion.
In the third quarter, the Lobos left little doubt who was the superior team, building a 54-32 lead.
Snowflake dominance left an impression on Wilcox. "They are a very good team with big, strong kids and they are quick," he said.
Only Jeremy Hoff, who finished with 20 points was effective offensively for the Longhorns. Teammate Jeremy Reynolds contributed 10 points.
The loss, which was the Horns' second in the tournament, eliminated Payson from the Shoot Out.
In a first round game played Dec. 3, the Longhorns dropped a nail-biter, 80-78, in overtime to Chino Valley.
The defeat dropped Payson into the losers' bracket against Arizona Boys Ranch, a first-round loser to Chinle.
A 75-47 victory over ABR kept Horn tournament hopes alive and propelled Payson into the losers' bracket quarterfinal game against Snowflake.
Fall to CV, humble ABR
In the squeaker Against Chino Valley, the Horns found themselves in a seesaw affair throughout the first two quarters of play.
"Neither team dominated," Wilcox said.
Chino led 35-34 at halftime, but rallied in the third quarter to build a 57-51 margin.
Payson came roaring back in the fourth quarter to trail only 69-68 with 11 seconds remaining.
With the game clock stopped, Chino readied itself for a pair of crucial free throws awarded on a Payson foul. The Chino player made only his first attempt.
After the misfire, Hoff corralled the rebound and sped away on a dribble drive down court.
Running coast to coast -- and with only three seconds remaining-- Hoff laid the ball in cleanly to tie the game, 70-70, and send it into overtime.
In OT, the Longhorns continued to build momentum off Hoff's heroics.
"We led by four points at one time," Wilcox said.
But each time Payson tried to pull away and build a more substantial lead, Chino would chalk up a three-pointer to keep the game in reach.
In the waning moments of the tense back and forth action, Chino trailed 78-77 but was working its offense for a game-winning shot.
As the clock wound down to just two seconds, Chino's Randy Jackson, seemingly in desperation, threw up a three-point attempt from the top of the key. The shot barely cleared the outreached hands of Payson defenders, Wilcox said.
Perfectly arched and on target, the ball swished threw the cords in WHS gym, ending Payson's hopes of a berth in the championship bracket's second round.
Wilcox said he was left befuddled wondering how Jackson could have thrown up such a seemingly futile but successful shot.
"We were playing defense exactly like we wanted. He (Jackson) had a hand in his face. He was well guarded," Wilcox said.
And from Payson's point of view, Jackson was an unlikely hero.
"That (three pointer) was his only points of the game. He didn't even have a free throw. In fact, that could have been his only shot of the game," Wilcox said.
Reynolds led all scorers with 24 points, 18 of which came on three-point shots. Hoff finished with 19 for the Longhorns, Kaare Wagner had 15 and Josh McRae 14.
In past years, victories over Arizona Boys Ranch have been tough to come by for any of the state's high school teams.
But that was yesteryear, when the ABR student body boasted of hundreds of students, many of them talented athletes from California and other neighboring states.
Due to the death of a student last year and the resulting claims of abuse and neglect, the reform school is now only a skeleton of what it once was.
The school's decline from grace was never more evident than in its 28 point loss to Payson.
"They are really down. Their coach told me he was playing a bunch of 14- and 15-year-olds," PHS coach Wilcox said.
The once-proud Spartans played on even terms with Payson only in the first quarter, when ABR led 14-13.
Minutes later, the Horns built a 37-27 lead and then coasted to the victory behind the scoring of Wagner (16), Reynolds (15), Hoff (13) and McRae (12).