The Payson Longhorn boys' basketball team stayed in the hunt for a fourth-place Central Division finish with a 68-53 win over Santa Cruz Tuesday evening in the Wilson Dome.
Despite the win the Horns -- who sported 5-0 divisional credentials as recently as Jan. 15 --have fallen to 7-5 in the Central and 9-14 overall.
Payson's slide from the unbeaten began Jan. 19 in an 88-86 overtime loss to the Coolidge Bears. Since then, the hardwood crew has suffered a myriad of injuries and illnesses that has hindered the progress of the squad.
The Longhorns wrap up regular-season play today (Friday) in a 7 p.m. game in Coolidge.
The possibility exists, PHS coach Randy Wilcox said, that his team could host a first round game when the Central tournament opens Feb. 9.
To play the role of host, the Horns will need to retain their fourth-place standing. A win over Coolidge would insure that. A loss against the Bears could hurt Horn chances, depending on the outcome of other division games.
Following the first round of Central Division tournament play, the fray moves to the campus of Arizona Boys Ranch. All games there will be played Feb. 12 and 13. First-round Central losers are eliminated from the tournament.
The opening-round victors are assured a spot in the state tournament when it begins Feb. 16 in Flagstaff.
In the win over Santa Cruz Tuesday evening, Payson's Jeremy Reynolds led all scorers with 21 points. Josh McRae finished with 20.
The turning point of the game, Wilcox said, came in the third quarter when the Longhorn defense held the Dust Devils to only two points.
The defensive stand lifted Payson from a 32-29 halftime deficit to a 48-34 lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter.