A five-game home stand presented the Howard Payne Lady Jackets with an opportunity to climb back into the race for the No. 1 seed in the American Southwest Conference and postseason tournament hosting rights. Through the first three games, the Lady Jackets couldn’t have asked for a much better scenario.
Howard Payne completed a season sweep of Mary Hardin-Baylor with a 60-54 victory at the Brownwood Coliseum Thursday night, while a Louisiana College (10-5, 8-4) loss to LeTourneau allowed the Lady Jackets to vault into third place. ASC leader UT-Tyler (13-3, 11-2) also suffered a defeat at the hands of Hardin-Simmons, as Howard Payne (10-6, 9-4) — which is tied with UMHB (9-7, 9-4) for third but owns the tiebreaker — now finds itself just two games out of the top spot in the conference standings.
The Lady Jackets were outrebounded 52-28, but forced 27 turnovers while only committing nine to claw out of an early hole.
“Defense has been our biggest focus since the second semester started,” said HPU head coach Meia Daniels. “I’ve been trying to tell them defense is going to win games for us. We’re not going to go out and score 80 points a game. We’re going to have to hold teams under 60 points to win games, and they’re doing a pretty good job of it.”
With leading scorer Danyel Bradley — who finished with 27 points — and 6-2 post Kalin Hanna on the bench less than two minutes into the game with two fouls each, the Lady Jackets found themselves trailing by seven points just under nine minutes into the contest.
“The biggest thing was making sure they kept their heads up at the beginning of the game,” Daniels said. “They were frustrated, Danyel was on the bench, Kalin was on the bench, but I told them to keep their heads up and keep playing defense. They kept fighting and pulled through. They grew up a lot tonight.”
Trailing 29-25 at halftime, the Lady Jackets pulled ahead 42-39 on a three-pointer by Shardena Hudson with 11:07 remaining, which ignited an 11-4 run that extended Howard Payne’s lead to seven points, 50-43, with 7:33 left.
UMHB pieced together another run that closed the gap to two points, 56-54, with 33 seconds left, but the Lady Jackets defense iced the victory. Following a UMHB timeout, Britani Gattis notched a steal in the paint with 29 seconds left, and Bradley tacked on two free throws with 10 seconds to go to increase the lead to 58-54. Bradley then stole the ensuing inbounds pass and chipped in two additional free throws with eight seconds left for the final six-point margin.
Bradley’s 27 points led all scores while HPU also received 10 points from Gattis, eight each from Hudson and Sarah Van Remmen, three from Yessenia Cazares and two points apiece from Hanna and McKinley Meyer.
Howard Payne converted just 34 percent (22 of 65) of its field goals, 16 percent (3 of 19) of its three-pointers and 72 percent (13 of 18) of its free throws.
UMHB sank 43 percent (24 of 56) of its shots and attempted just two three-pointers, missing both, while draining 6 of 8 free throws (75 percent).
Taylor Tucker paced UMHB with 23 points and nine rebounds trailed by Alyssa Dean with 10 points, Bridjai Chaney with nine, Jovana Miles with seven points and 12 rebounds, Macy Moore with four points and Jonelle Smith with two.
The Lady Jackets host Concordia (8-8, 6-7) — a 75-68 winner at Sul Ross Thursday — at 1 p.m. Saturday.