After trailing most of the first quarter, the Payson Longhorns turned on the afterburners, scorching the Round Valley Elks, 80-55.
“In the beginning, they worked harder than we did, but we turned that around,” coach Kenny Hayes said. “And we were deeper than they — that helped.”
The East Region victory, which was chalked up Jan. 13 in Wilson Dome, improved the Horns to 10-8 overall and 2-0 in the region.
Oddly enough, the Horns are now the only winning team in the East and the only squad unbeaten in region play.
In football, the East dominated the other three 3A regions by sending two of its teams, Blue Ridge and Payson, to the state championship game.
But in basketball, the East appears to be the conference’s weak sister for the second consecutive year.
“It’s been a down couple of years,” said Hayes who led the Longhorns last season to state runner-up honors.
The Alchesay Falcons, normally one of the finer hoop teams in the conference, are struggling this year with a 7-8 record and Round Valley is on a three-game losing streak despite the presence of Duskin Donaldson, who scored 21 points in the loss to Payson including an NBA-range three-pointer to end the first half.
Hayes has long preached the value of solid defense to his charges and the “D” was at its best in the third quarter when Payson outscored the Elks 21-8 to break the game wide open.
Using both man-to-man and 2-3 matchup zone schemes, Longhorn defenders were able to shut down the Round Valley attack led by T.J. Peters, who is ranked second in the region in scoring with a 14.7 ppg average.
Peters was held to just eight points.
For Payson, Cody York led all scorers with 15 points, which improved his average to 12.6 ppg — fifth best in the East.
Dakota Marshall and Matt Wilson finished with 12 points each and Jeff Day had 10.
Unofficially, Ever Figueroa — who shares point guard time with Shane Keith — dished out eight assists.
Keith had six and is now ranked second in the region, averaging 4.1 per game. With a 3.2 per game mark, Figueroa is fifth.
On the boards, Marshall and Wilson both had five rebounds. Tyler Savage finished with three.