After jumping out to a 27 to 10 lead midway through the first quarter, the Longhorn boys basketball team survived a furious Safford rally to win 56-50.
The state semifinal game was played yesterday evening at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale.
Early in the game, with Safford in a man-to-man defense, Payson dominated play behind the strong inside duo of 6-foot 7-inch Matt Wilson and 6-foot 8- inch Oliver Lewinson.
The highlight of the early rout was Cody York's steal and breakaway slam dunk, with 41 seconds remaining in the first quarter. The basket lifted the Horns to a 16-5 lead.
After Safford switched from man-to-man defense to a variety of zones including the 2-1-2, the tide began to change for the Longhorns.
"We didn't run our zone offense very well and it allowed Safford to get back into the game," said Kenny Hayes, Longhorn coach.
By halftime, Safford had closed to within 35-24. During the Bulldog rally, Payson was whistled for three controversial offensive fouls.
With 3:15 remaining in the third quarter, Safford closed to within 37-32 and had a chance to pull even closer, but had a three-point shot attempt rim out of the basket.
With 3:40 left in the game, Shane Keith sank one of two free throws to give Payson a 44-37 lead. Less than a minute later, the Dogs closed the score, 45-42.
Lewinson hit a short hook shot, with 2:30 remaining, to push the Horns lead to 47-42.
With Safford in a frantic full-court-press, the Dogs were able to come within 53-50. Keith hit one of two free throws and Robert Walker sunk two in the final minute to salvage the win.
"The difference in the game was that our inside players dominated theirs.
"We dominate in rebounding and points and that won the game for us," Hayes said.
The Longhorns scoring leaders were Lewinson with 14 points and Tyler Savage finished with 12.
Payson now plays at 8 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday, for the 3A state championship. The Horns' opponent is Estrella Foothills.
"They are a very good team, but they're beatable," Hayes said.