BELTON — Trailing by 13 points at the start of the fourth period, the Howard Payne Lady Jackets tallied the first nine points of the quarter. But the Mary Hardin-Baylor Lady Crusaders withstood the rally and emerged with a 72-66 home victory Thursday night — and sole possession of first place in the American Southwest Conference West Division.
The loss dropped Howard Payne (12-7, 8-3) from a first-place tie all the way to third place, as McMurry (11-7, 9-3) — which fell to the Lady Jackets Saturday — upended Hardin-Simmons, 70-60, to slide into second place. Mary Hardin-Baylor (16-3, 9-2) leads McMurry by a half-game and Howard Payne by a full game with six dates left on the Lady Jackets’ schedule — including the regular-season finale at home against UMHB.
UMHB shot just 34 percent (22 of 65) from the floor, but converted 25 of 32 free throws. Meanwhile, HPU drained 38 percent (28 of 74) of its field goals, but attempted just seven free throws with six makes. The Lady Jackets were also outrebounded, 51-42, which led to an 18-11 edge in second-chance points for the Lady Crusaders.
Jada Evans led HPU with 17 points followed by 16 from ASC West Player of the Week Valarie Matlock. Chelsi Woodard and Djimonii Jackson contributed six points apiece followed by five each from Presley McKethan and Dominique Featherstone, four each from Anastasia Willis and Caprica Brooks and three points from Chelsey Harris.
For UMHB, Hannah Holt and Alicia Blackwell both recorded double-doubles. Holt finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds while Blackwell chipped in 17 points and 10 boards. Kendall Rollins and Aubrie Elliott also reached double figures in points with a dozen each.
Tied at 15 with 1:40 left in the first quarter, UMHB scored the final four points of the initial period and the first four of the second to establish an eight-point cushion en route to a 38-25 halftime advantage.
The Lady Jackets found themselves down as many as 18 points, 52-34, at the 4:11 mark of the third period, but cut UMHB’s lead to 56-43 by the end of the quarter.
In the fourth, jumpers by Matlock and Jackson, a pair of Matlock free throws and a trey from McKethen brought Howard Payne within 56-52 with 7:57 remaining. With the score at 60-56 in favor of the Lady Crusaders, UMHB tallied nine of the next 11 points to re-establish a double-digit cushion of 69-58 with 3:33 to go.
Howard Payne eventually closed the gap to 71-66 with 42 seconds left on a jumper by Evans, but failed to score again.
The Lady Jackets will attempt to bounce back at Concordia (9-10, 5-6) — a 69-57 winner over Sul Ross Thursday night — at 2 p.m. Saturday in Austin.