On Jan. 25, the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets suffered their fifth loss in a row at the hands of the Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders and were 1 ½ games back in the race for the fourth and final berth from the West Division into the American Southwest Conference championship tournament.
Saturday afternoon at the Brownwood Coliseum, the Yellow Jackets celebrated a third straight victory — and their first appearance in the ASC championship tournament since 2015, thanks to a 76-74 win at the buzzer over Mary Hardin-Baylor.
“All teams want to start getting hot going into the tournament and what a great way for us to finish up with three straight wins to get in,” said HPU head coach Troy Drummond. “This is an awesome feeling and what we’ve worked for the whole time. You’re never guaranteed to get into the tournament.”
Trailing by as many as 10 points with just 7:18 remaining, the Yellow Jackets (11-14, 7-10) surging ahead by five, 74-69, with 1:20 left. UMHB (17-8, 10-7) answered with the next five points to knot the score at 74.
Then, with four seconds left, HPU’s Khyce Randall — who led all scorers with 36 points — fired up a potential go-ahead three-pointer. The shot was off target, but Yellow Jacket freshman Timothy Aguero — the smallest player on the court at the time — secured the offensive rebound and putback just before the buzzer sounded, securing the victory and postseason trip for Howard Payne.
“We didn’t draw up anything, we just wanted to get the best shot possible,” Drummond said. “Obviously we wanted to get the ball in our best player’s hands, and we felt like Khyce had taken us this far. He got off a good shot and we told the guys to crash the boards, we wanted either a win or overtime.
“And what a great heads up play by a freshman. Tim’s done a great job this year, and what a great job getting the shot off over a Mary Hardin-Baylor player. He’s a good rebounder and gets in place you don’t normally expect him to be and comes up with the ball and gets a shot off.”
Down 59-49, the Yellow Jackets’ fourth-quarter rally began with a trey from Randall, who then added two free throws to shave the deficit to 59-54 at 6:35. Darren Farmer then followed with a three-pointer and two free throws as Howard Payne crept within 60-59 with 5:12.
Farmer then pushed HPU in front, 61-60, with a layup at the 5:08 mark, and Thomas Bingham followed with a bucket to increase the lead to 63-60 at 4:58.
UMHB knotted the score at 63 on Aubrie King’s trey at 4:22 and the teams traded baskets up a layup by Farmer at 2:23 made the score 70-68 in favor of the Yellow Jackets. Rickey Guillory and Aguero later added buckets as the lead frew to 74-69 at the 1:20 mark.
But Demarious Cress scored at 1:12, then converted three free throws with 28 seconds left to force the 74-all tie.
Along with Randall’s 36-point effort, Farmer finished with 13 trailed by Guillory and Bingham with eight points each, Aguero and Cole Bene’ with four apiece, Shadd Cole with two and Talen Davis with one.
Brian Long led UMHB with 15 points followed by 13 each from Cress and Lakendric Hyson and 12 from King.
The Yellow Jackets won four of their last six games to qualify for the ASC tournament and will face East Division champion LeTourneau at 2:30 p.m. Thursday. West Division champion Sul Ross is hosting the championship.
“After we lost to Mary Hardin-Baylor I thought we made a huge change in our philosophy and our guys bought in and the best thing that happened was seeing success that next game against Concordia,” Drummond said. “We were down 21-6 at the start of the game and stayed the course and ended up winning that game. The next game against Sul Ross we didn’t play bad, we just didn’t shoot the ball well. But each game we were growing and we could have won that McMurry game just as easily as we lost, and then getting on a winning streak against Hardin-Simmons, Concordia and Mary Hardin-Baylor.”
ASC MEN’S BASKETBALL
At Sul Ross
Thursday, February 22
• Game 1: (W2) Mary Hardin-Baylor vs. (E3) East Texas Baptist, Noon
• Game 2: (E1) LeTourneau vs. (E4) Howard Payne, 2:30 p.m.
• Game 3: (E2) UT Dallas vs. (W3) Concordia Texas, 5 p.m.
• Game 4: (W1) Sul Ross State vs. (E4) UT Tyler, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, February 23
• Game 5: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 5 p.m.
• Game 6: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, February 24
• Game 7: Winner Game 5 vs. Winner Game 6, 6 p.m.