After watching the Longhorns dismantle state second-ranked Snowflake 66-59 Friday evening in Wilson Dome, fans are wondering just how good this Payson boys basketball team can become.
Coach Mike Loutzenheiser believes he has the answer.
"When we play together as a team, like we did against Snowflake, we can be very, very good," he said. "We were distributing the ball and getting it to the open player for the good shot."
The triumph over the highly regarded Lobos lifts the Horns all-important East record to 1-0 and 9-5 overall. It also marked the second time in a week that Payson has whipped a state top-five ranked team.
Jan. 4 in Wilson Dome, the Horns edged fourth-rated Tuba City 58-53.
In beating Snowflake, Payson had to overcome a 33-point outburst from Porter Caldwell.
"Everything he threw up in the second half went in," Loutzenheiser said.
Fortunately for the Longhorns, the team received a three-pronged offensive effort that more than compensated for Caldwell's barrage. Nick Cassuto (17 points), Derek Daniels (15) and Mike Barr (12) all drew praise from Loutzenheiser for their spirited offensive play.
The Horns cause also picked up nine points and a solid defensive effort from Jake Swartwood.
"He had some key blocks," Loutzenheiser said.
What might have been the shot of the game was launched by senior forward Nate Acord. In the final second of the first half, he sunk a three-pointer that increased the Horns' halftime lead to seven points.
"That was huge," the coach said. "It gave us a boost going into the locker room."
In the second half, Payson expanded its lead to as much as 50-37 before a late rally -- mostly fueled by Caldwell -- closed the Longhorns' final margin to seven points.
Following the victory, Loutzenheiser attributed the team's stellar play to depth on the roster.
"We have a good rotation (of players) and everyone is getting quality minutes," he said.
The only player who didn't see action was Nate Perna who was ill. Also suffering the effects of the flu, Chris Donaldson saw limited playing time.
The win over the Lobos sets the stage for a crucial three-game set that could test the mettle of the team.
The East stint begins today (Tuesday) when Payson travels to Eagar/Springerville to challenge the Round Valley elks.
Thursday, the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets visit Wilson Dome. The following day (Friday), the Longhorns travel to Whiteriver to take on the Alchesay Falcons.
If the Longhorns can survive those clashes unscathed, the team could be on the road to regional honors and a berth in the season-ending state tournament.