SACO — Payton Jones was sick and didn’t play back in December when Thornton Academy defeated Sanford in a close game.

Wednesday night, he made the Spartans feel sick when the teams met in a Class AA South boys’ basketball quarterfinal.

Jones, a freshman guard, scored 23 points to lead the high-tempo Trojans to a 64-40 win over Sanford and into the regional semifinals. He scored all his points in the final three quarters when third-seeded Thornton Academy shifted into high gear and pulled away.

“I’m really impressed with Payton Jones – we had a hard time stopping him,” said Sanford Coach Ryan Martin. “We definitely knew about him, we prepared for him. But he’s just a tough guy to cover and he played like a big-time player tonight … as a freshman.”

The Trojans (9-10) will play South Portland at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Cross Insurance Arena in a rematch of last year’s regional final, won by South Portland. Thornton defeated the Red Riots 76-64 on Jan. 20.

Sixth-seeded Sanford, which lost its first six games, finished 6-13.

“This is big for this team,” said Thornton Coach Bob Davies. “They’ve waited their turn and put in their time. It’s good for them to play in front of a tournament atmosphere and get a win.”

This was as complete a victory as the Trojans have had this season. They ran the floor, passed the ball to open players for easy shots, rebounded well and hounded the Spartans defensively, forcing everything to the outside and holding Sanford’s inside threat, Leyton Bickford, to just four points. He had 28 points in the regular-season game, won by the Trojans 61-58, but C.J. Labreck wouldn’t give him any space in this one.

“We’re getting better as a team,” said Davies. “Sometimes with young kids, it takes a little bit to realize it’s a team game.

“There’s a lot of individual talent, but no matter what you do, it all comes down to the team.”

Thornton scored the first seven points. But it wasn’t until late in the second quarter and into the third that the Trojans pulled away.

Ethan Shain hit three 3-pointers in the second quarter to keep Sanford close. But Thornton scored the final seven points of the quarter to take a 32-22 halftime lead. Jones began it with a three-point play, driving to the right. Andre Hart scored on another drive. Finally, with the clock running down, Will Chapman blocked a shot by Bickford, and Jones scooped up the ball and raced downcourt to beat the buzzer for a layup.

Thornton had three buzzer-beaters: Will Mitchell hit a 3 at the end of the first quarter, and Jones made a step-back 3 from the left corner off a feed from Hart to end the third quarter, giving Thornton a 45-28 lead.

Thornton point guard Anthony Bracamonte said Jones’s presence really got the offense going.

“It just makes it easier for me and everyone else,” he said.

Jones credited his teammates for his big game.

“My teammates helped me get the ball and got me into the game early, so I was able to make those plays,” he said.

Jones and Bracamonte also said the defense made everything easy for the Trojans.

“We all talked and communicated with each other and were on the same page,” said Jones.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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