The Howard Payne Yellow Jackets last qualified for the postseason at the conclusion of the 2007-08 campaign, but head coach Troy Drummond is hopeful a youth movement within the program results in a return to the American Southwest Conference championship tournament.
The Yellow Jackets (1-1) are coming off a 75-68 win over East Texas Baptist — an ASC rival played in a non-conference game — and carry positive momentum into Saturday’s 3 p.m. league opener against UT-Tyler.
“With one senior, one junior and the rest sophomores and freshmen, you have to keep your eye on the process of how to get there and not necessarily the goal,” Drummond said.
In the victory over ETBU — which visits the Brownwood Coliseum on Dec. 15 in the rematch that counts in the conference standings — the Yellow Jackets raced out to a 42-28 halftime lead but were forced to rally from six down in the final 90 seconds, and closed the game with a 13-0 run.
“I was proud of the way our guys stayed the course of the game and fought,” Drummond said following the victory. “They had a chance to fold and quit playing after ETBU took the lead, but they kept playing until the final buzzer went off. It was a total team win. Every person contributed, including our guys on the bench.”
Brandon Gould scored 26 points to pace the Yellow Jackets followed by 14 points from Christian Davis, 11 points and 10 rebounds from JaKalan Gayden, seven points from Michael Thompson, six points apiece from Blake Arbogast and Jorden Young, four from Travis Taillet and one point from Quelan Lancaster.
The Yellow Jackets shot 46 percent from the floor, including 58 percent on three-pointers, while holding previously-unbeaten East Texas Baptist to 39 percent shooting. Howard Payne also owned a 28-24 edge in rebounds and forced 16 turnovers, while committing 19.
“We still have way too many turnovers and we need to cut down on the that,” Drummond said. “We’ve been getting better on defense and with rebounding and that’s something I’ve been proud of to this point. We’re still having defensive lapses here and there, but not consistently for a long period of time.”
The Yellow Jackets were projected to finish sixth in the seventh team West Division in the ASC preseason poll, but a fast start against East competition could ignite Howard Payne’s postseason chances.
Following the UT-Tyler tilt, the Yellow Jackets face Mississippi College and Louisiana College at home on Thursday and Saturday, Dec. 1, respectively. HPU then visits LeTourneau (Dec. 8), hosts ETBU and travels to both Ozarks (Jan. 3) and UT-Dallas (Jan. 5) to conclude its schedule against the East.
“We know the West is going to be tough, so we have to try and steal some in the East, especially on the road,” Drummond said. “It’s very important to go in and get as many wins as we can against the East.”
A year ago, the Yellow Jackets finished tied at the bottom of the West Division standings along with Sul Ross. While not expecting to be a contender for the division title, competing for one of the top four positions in the seven-team zone and advancing to the postseason is a goal Howard Payne has in place.
“It’s another process where we’re going to have to teach our kids that there are no off nights in this conference,” Drummond said. “Mary Hardin-Baylor, Hardin-Simmons and Concordia, then Texas Lutheran played a Division I team within 11 points, so that’s pretty impressive.”
While college playing experience is not among the strengths of this group of Yellow Jackets, the work ethic is there to be a success, according to Drummond.
“Their determination and wanting to get better, buying into what we’re preaching with the defense and rebounding, that’s probably been that most impressive thing about everybody,” Drummond said. “But we have to compete hard every night and make sure we defend and rebound consistently every game.”