The Howard Payne Yellow Jackets will be entering their first American Southwest Conference basketball tournament since 2008 as the No. 4 seed, thanks to a 65-60 victory over LeTourneau — their third in a row — in Saturday’s home finale at the Brownwood Coliseum.
HPU’s closing surge, which featured three consecutive home victories, allowed Howard Payne (14-11, 14-6) to finish tied for third in the ASC along with No. 3 seed Louisiana College (14-9, 14-6) and No. 5 seed Mary Hardin-Baylor (17-8, 14-6) — the Yellow Jackets’ 5 p.m. Thursday opponent in the first round of the tournament, hosted by No. 1 seed East Texas Baptist.
Howard Payne and Mary Hardin-Baylor split their two meetings with the Jackets gaining a 69-63 home victory on Dec. 4, while the Cru returned the favor, 97-85, in Belton on Jan. 24.
The Yellow Jackets will be making their first postseason appearance in Troy Drummond’s coaching tenure.
In Saturday’s win over LeTourneau, the Yellow Jackets — who are guaranteed their best single-season winning percentage since finishing 20-7 in 2005-06 — trailed with just over two minutes remaining.
LeTourneau (5-20, 3-17) — which lost to HPU, 76-64, in Longview on Jan. 15 — took its final lead with 2:23 to go on a free throw by Jared Hunter.
Brandon Gould answered for the Yellow Jackets with a jumper in the lane at the 2:11 mark, making the score 56-55. Another bucket from Gould with 35 seconds to go stretched Howard Payne’s lead to two possessions, 61-57.
LeTourneau responded by turning over the ball on three consecutive possessions, which resulted in four Howard Payne free throws — two by Gould, one by Rickey Guillory and one by Ty Davis — to extend the Yellow Jacket cushion to 65-57 with 13 seconds left.
The Yellow Jackets converted 42 percent (19 of 45) of their field goal attempts, 76 percent (25 of 33) of their free throws and owned a 38-33 edge in rebounds.
Gould finished with 24 points for Howard Payne trailed by 11 each from Davis and Sterling Smoak, seven from Khyce Randall, five from J Bailey, four from Guillory and three points from Blake Arbogast.
LeTourneau converted 40 percent (22 of 55) of its shots but only 57 percent (12 of 21) of its free throws.
Giovanny Thompson led LeTourneau with a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Kelby Schimming and Aaron Frizell also finished in double figures with 15 and 12 points, respectively.
Saturday marked the final home game for four Yellow Jacket seniors — Gould, Smoak, Arbogast and Jorden Young.