Calling it "the most fun game I've played in," senior guard Ky Bradley reveled in the Longhorns' 71-52 victory over the Alchesay Falcons.
With the East region tournament opening round victory Tuesday in Wilson Dome, the Horns (10-16 overall, 6-5 in the East) advance to the second round 7:30 p.m. today (Friday) against Blue Ridge at Whiteriver Alchesay.
A win over the Yellow Jackets would send the Longhorns into the East region championship game Saturday.
The victory over Alchesay also assures the Horns of at least a fourth-place seed into the Class 3A state tournament when it begins Feb. 19 in Flagstaff.
The Horns could improve upon that seed by advancing further into the regional tournament.
Earning a state berth and owning a legitimate shot at the East tournament championship seemed almost impossible at the onset of the season when the Horns were struggling to a 0-6 start.
But late in the campaign, coach Mike Loutzenheiser righted the listing Horn ship and the team now finds itself battling for postseason honors.
Although he never lost faith in the ability of his team, Loutzenheiser knows the Horns had their skeptics.
"I don't think anyone thought we would be in the state tournament," he said.
A torrid second half of play against Alchesay and a raucous hometown crowd might have been the keys to getting the team into the postseason.
"(Members of the crowd) were awesome ... I wish it was always that way," Bradley said.
But, during an opening half that ended with the score dead-knotted at 24-24, local fans didn't have much to cheer about.
In the second half, the Horns came alive to put on a hardwood clinic that saw them outscore the Falcons 47-28.
In the win, Nicky Cassuto turned in his best offensive performance of the season with 21 points. Bradley also was on target with 14 points.
Among the contributions of 6-foot, 5-inch center Mike Barr was a thundering, roundhouse dunk that brought the Payson crowd to its feet. Barr finished with 14 points.
"We played great in the second half. I'm very proud of this team," Loutzenheiser said after the game.