The Howard Payne Lady Jackets charged to the end of the first half, then relied on a steadily improving defense in the second half, as well as a 21-point advantage at the free throw line, to open American Southwest Conference action with a victory Saturday afternoon at the Brownwood Coliseum.

The five-time ASC champion Lady Jackets knocked off UT-Tyler, 68-56, on the strength of an 18-7 run prior to halftime, while holding the Lady Patriots to 31 percent shooting with 21 turnovers. Howard Payne also connected on 30 of 36 free throw attempts, while UT-Tyler was 9 of 15 from the line, which helped the Lady Jackets overcome their 25 turnovers and the Lady Patriots’ 47-44 edge in rebounds — including 18 on the offensive end.

“We didn’t handle their pressure very well,” Lady Jackets head coach Josh Prock said of the HPU offense. “We had too many turnovers, but we’ll get better at that the more we see it. We did execute well when we got in the half-court sets, so I was pretty pleased with that.”

Howard Payne (3-0, 1-0) received a team-high 17 points and seven rebounds from Britani Gattis and 15 points and four assists from ASC West player of the week Tresta Donahoo, who was plagued by foul trouble much of the game. Dana Marrs tallied 11 points and grabbed six rebounds, while Breanna Conway finished with nine points and seven boards. Senae Dillard also contributed five rebounds and two points to round out the starting lineup.

“We definitely had good production from our starting five,” Prock said. “They all stepped up and played pretty well today. Tresta did get in a little foul trouble today and that hurt her game a little bit, but I thought Dana stepped up and played really well. Britani made some big shots early and got us a good lead and Breanna was more physical today than she’s been in a while.”

Kayla Scott and Morgan Marriott chipped in five points apiece off the bench for HPU, while Danyel Bradley and Shardena Hudson added two points each.

UT-Tyler (1-2, 0-1) was paced by the 19-point, eight-rebound effort of She’Cara Humphrey, while Breanna McMillan finished with eight points after shooting just 4 of 20 from the field.

“We’re definitely getting better defensively with every game,” Prock said. “We had a lot of girls go the shooter today. They really paid attention to the scouting report and did a good job doing what they were supposed to do and getting to the positions they were supposed to get to.”

The Lady Jackets jumped out to an 11-2 lead just 4:21 into the contest as Gattis and Donahoo drained three-pointers, Marrs added a layup and Donahoo chipped in two free throws with one also coming from Conway.

UT-Tyler slowly climbed back into the contest, cutting HPU’s lead to 20-18 at the 7:51 mark of the opening half.

    Howard Payne fired back with eight consecutive points to take its first double-digit lead of the game, 28-18, with 5:07 left before intermission. Gattis began the surge with a three-pointer, then later added a free throw in front of two jumpers from Donahoo.

    The Lady Jackets continued to build on their lead as, ahead 30-20 with 4:38 to go, HPU reeled off eight of the next 10 points to open a 38-22 edge before UT-Tyler drained a three-pointer in the final 30 seconds to trim Howard Payne’s halftime advantage to 38-25. Two free throws from Hudson, a bucket and a free throw from Gattis and a trey by Marrs accounted for the eight points.

    “It was good for our girls to face adversity and then come back with that big run,” Prock said. “That’s when you start seeing the character of your team. We opened a big lead at first, then they came back, but our girls responded. The toughness of this team is there, we just have to execute better as in terms of handling the ball.”

    After shooting 39 percent in the first half, the Lady Jackets cooled off considerably, laboring to a 26 percent shooting performance over the final 20 minutes. UT-Tyler was unable to capitalize, however, as the Lady Patriots converted just 32 percent of their field goal attempts.

    Howard Payne again stretched the lead to 16 points, 44-28, on a layup by Marrs two minutes into the second half before the shooting woes arrived.

    UT-Tyler closed to within eight, 44-36, with 14:48 to go, but the Lady Jackets increased the lead back to 15 points, 52-37, with 13:10 remaining. The Lady Patriots later crept within nine points, 57-48, with 5:11 remaining and seven points, 59-52, with 2:50 left. Each time Howard Payne stopped the due to its performance at the charity stripe, where the Lady Jackets converted 17 of 20 second half free throws.

    “I told the girls coming into today’s game that UT-Tyler was a physical team for sure and they were going to foul us, hand check us and do all those things,” Prock said. “We needed to do a good job getting to the line and making free throws, and shooting 83 percent and going 30 for 36 is a great job.”

    The Lady Jackets host Mississippi College (3-1) at 5:30 p.m. Thursday and welcome Louisiana College (3-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday.