Longhorn basketball players can be excused for asking "what if?"
As in, "What if" we could throw out a miserable second quarter effort in which Chandler Seton outscored Payson 23-4?
If the stanza could be discarded, the Longhorns would be celebrating a state tournament opening round victory rather than wallowing in a 62-55 loss.
In the state game played Feb. 15 in the Northern Arizona University Skydome, the Horns trailed only 17-12 at the end of the first quarter but a 19-2 Seton run in the second put the Horns in a hole they could never dig themselves out of.
Payson did, however, make a game out of it, outscoring the state championship-favored Sentinels 39-23 in the second half.
With less than a minute remaining, senior Brian Schwind's two free throws closed the Seton lead to 59-53.
Seconds later, the Horns had a chance to cut the cushion to four but missed back-to-back free throws.
In the final going, the Sentinels scored an insurance basket and free throw to assume a 62-53 lead before Brandon Buckner's jumper with 3.8 seconds pulled the Horns to within seven.
But the rally was too little, too late for a Longhorn team that doomed itself with a poor second quarter showing.
In the loss, junior Carlos Lopez turned in his finest showing of the campaign, scoring a game high 17 points.
All season long, the junior has been a steady defender but his scoring potential had mostly gone untapped.
In the Horns late rally, Lopez was a frequent contributor, including a two-pointer with 2:40 remaining that seemed to keep the come from behind effort alive.
Entering the game, he was averaging 1.7 ppg on 48 percent shooting from the field.
Seconds after Lopez scored, Hunter Hardt sank a three to close Seton's lead to 56-47. The basket marked the first time Chandler Seton's lead had been less than double digits since the second quarter.
The Horns entered the post-season tournament as the East region's fourth and final qualifier. State No. 1-ranked Chandler Seton is the south region champion and a tournament top-seed.