Some of the Payson Longhorns might have forgotten the agony of an East region defeat.
That’s understandable, they hadn’t lost an East game in more than two seasons.
But Jan. 23 in Snowflake, the Horns received a jolting reminder of the pain of loss falling 68-66 to the Lobos.
Following the team’s return to Payson, Kenny Hayes — last year’s East Coach of the Year — stepped up to shoulder the blame, “I did not have them prepared fully for the game, it is my fault they lost,” he said.
“I need to insure that they understand how to play in a tight game situation.”
With the loss, which occurred in front of a standing room only and raucous Lobo crowd, the Horns fall to 12-10 overall and 4-1 in the East. Despite the dishearting defeat, Payson remains in first place in the East one full game ahead of Snowflake and Alchesay who are both 3-2.
The defeat was particularly tough to absorb because the Horns had a legitimate shot at winning with 13 seconds remaining in the game.
Trailing 67-66 and in possession of the ball, Payson’s effort to get off a game winning shot ended when game officials whistled senior forward Tyler Savage for a moving screen.
Seconds later, Snowflake made one free throw to take a 68-66 lead but Payson corralled the rebound from the second free throw and quickly moved down court where Ever Figueroa drove for a last second contested lay-up that missed.
Some Payson-faithful thought Figueroa was fouled, but the call was not made.
However, no-calls in game winning situations in front of a capacity home crowd is not unusual in prep basketball unless the foul is absolutely flagrant.
In Snowflake, Figueroa had an interesting night finishing with a game high nine assists and seven steals to go along with a whopping 10 turnovers.
In all, the Horns finished with 26 turnovers, a mark that Hayes has said he finds totally unacceptable.
If the team continues that type of careless play, the trip into the state tournament will certainly be a brief one.
Although Hayes would probably relish practice time to devote to improving the team’s crispness, decision-making and floor game, the Horns don’t have that luxury. They jump right back into the East region title fight today, Jan. 27, in Wilson Dome against the Show Low Cougars. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
Lobos heave sigh of respite
The win over Payson had to welcome relief in Lobo land where blue and white faithful were still reeling from two losses last football season to the state champion Longhorns.
One defeat occurred in the state tournament quarterfinals and ended the Lobos season.
That’s gut wrenching for Lobo alum mostly because the school’s former athletes had their way with the Horns, in all sports, for most of two decades.
If the Dark Ages are defined in history as a period of cultural decline and societal collapse, PHS’s 20-years of domination by the Lobos is remembered as a gloomy epoch that was seemingly endless.
Takin’ care of business
While Payson’s loss in Snowflake can be directly attributed to turnovers, the team also misfired from both the free throw line and beyond the three-point arc.
At the line, Payson shot only 17 of 33, which is not up to standards for a state ranked team.
From beyond the 19-feet, 9-inch arc, the Horns made good on just 3 of 14 shots. Again, that is substandard for a two-time defending state-runner-up team.
But the good news in the entire scenario is that the Horns have the opportunity to reverse their East fortunes and take another step towards a region champion when they host Show Low tonight.
The Cougars are struggling with a 7-16 record and have lost once this season to Payson, Jan. 9 in Show Low.
Tonight against the Cougars, the Horns will unleash senior Cody York who has been on a tear as of late scoring 27 points in the loss to Snowflake
He’s currently averaging 13.2 ppg and is the region’s fourth-ranked scorer. Tyler Savage has also been a force coming off the bench to score 15 points on 7-of-7 shooting vs. the Lobos.
If the team can correct it’s floor game woes, which includes improved long range and free throw shooting, the Cougars should return to their White Mountain dens licking their considerable wounds.