By FRANK CASH
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
MENDON, Ill. -- There was one major factor in the Payson Seymour boys basketball team surviving Southeastern's push during Friday night's Mississippi Valley Invitational Tournament semifinal game -- the play of Lance Buhlig.
With the Indians fighting the Suns tooth and nail during the fourth quarter, the junior guard came up big with several key steals and three assists, which led to Payson's 62-53 victory.
"(Buhlig) was the reason we won," Indians coach Brian Rea said. "He was unbelievable on defense because he hustled. He caused turnovers and made some great passes."
Without Buhlig's play, Payson might not be in a position to play for a second straight MVIT title. The Indians (9-1) will meet Unity in the championship game for the second straight year at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Southeastern (7-6) tied the score at 40 when Shea Flesner made two free throws with 7 minutes, 30 seconds left in the game. Jake Voss scored on Payson's next possession, and Cody Hildebrand followed with a basket after Buhlig made a backcourt steal.
Another Buhlig steal led to another basket from Hildebrand for a 46-40 lead with 6:32 left. The Indians were never threatened again.
"(Buhlig) doesn't always get a whole lot of attention, but he does so much for us," said Voss, who scored a game-high 25 points, with 13 coming in the fourth quarter. "If he hadn't stepped up, who knows what might've happened."
Southeastern's tenacious play made things difficult for Payson, especially in the half-court game. The Suns' biggest lead was 25-21 after Justin Hainline scored off a pass from Ryan Slater with 1:21 left in the first half.
The Suns' last lead came when Matthew Ramsey's free throw made the score 38-36 with 43.5 seconds left in the third quarter.
Southeastern had trouble handling Payson's pressure defense, commiting 25 turnovers in the game.
"I think it's obvious Payson is a very good team and it's obvious we're a team that's still getting better," Suns coach Todd Fox said. "We had some moments tonight that our kids haven't experienced before. We showed inexperience tonight not because of how old we are but because we hadn't been in those types of situations."
Hildebrand finished with 16 points and Buhlig added 15 points and six assists. Ramsey led Southeastern with 15 points and 10 rebounds, Slater scored 12 and Flesner added 11.
Rea expects a better performance from his team Saturday night.
"If we play like we did tonight, we'll get beat," Rea said. "We need much better effort and execution. We need to stick to our gameplan."