The Howard Payne Lady Jackets picked up their first victory since Dec. 4 — and their second win in American Southwest Conference action — by snapping a six-game skid, 80-69 over the Sul Ross Lady Lobos Saturday afternoon at the Brownwood Coliseum.
The much-needed win catapulted Howard Payne from the bottom of the ASC West standings into fourth place, as the top four teams from each division advance to the conference tournament at the end of February.
“The gap changes night in and night out,” HPU first-year head coach Yannick Denson said during his postgame radio interview. “This conference is so competitive you don’t know what team is going to win what night. All the upsets in the league on Thursday were eye-opening. We’re going to take these next nine games one at a time. Instead of holding a position we’re fighting for a position and I think we have a different edge to us as a team.”
Howard Payne (5-11, 2-5) shot 41 percent (26 of 64) from the field, including 32 percent (9 of 28) on three-pointers, as freshman Lily Janek led the charge with 27 points behind five treys. Sophomore Chelsey Harris chipped in 17 points for the Lady Jackets, who also knocked down 76 percent (19 of 25) of their free throw attempts.
Freshman Payge Grable also finished in double figures with 13 points for the Lady Jackets trailed by seven from Salina Ali and Anastasia Willis, four from Chelsi Woodard, three from Julissa Ibarra and two points from Caprica Brooks.
Despite committing 21 turnovers, the Lady Jackets also outscored the Lady Lobos 58-42 in the paint and 16-4 off the bench.
Sul Ross (4-12, 2-5) owned a 45-36 edge in rebounds and converted 83 percent (20 of 24) of its free throws, but was limited to 36 percent (21 of 58) from the floor with 28 turnovers, which led to 30 Howard Payne points.
“We knew coming in Sul Ross didn’t handle pressure very well and would turn it over,” said Denson, who earned his first coaching victory at the Brownwood Coliseum. “We forced 28 turnovers with 30 points off of those. That makes a difference in a game that you win by 11.”
Chandre Nunez scored a game-high 26 points for the Lady Lobos trailed by 13 from Jazmine Saucedo, 12 points and 12 rebounds from Jocelyne Roque, eight points from Lizette Heredia, five from Jessica Magallanes, three from Liz Mata and two points from Kianna Fierro.
Seeking their first win since a 78-62 victory at LeTourneau 39 days prior, the Lady Jackets led Sul Ross 16-8 after one quarter, 32-28 at halftime and 67-51 through three periods.
After the Lady Lobos crept within a couple of possessions at intermissions, the Lady Jackets dominated the third period behind a 35-point effort — three more points than HPU managed the entire first half — to seize control of the contest.
HPU tallied the first five points of the second half — a trey followed by two free throws from Harris — to extend the advantage to nine points, 37-28, just 50 seconds into the third quarter.
At the 5:04 mark of the third, Janek drained a three-pointer to push the Howard Payne advantage to double figures, 48-37.
After Sul Ross narrowed the margin to seven points, 48-41, at the 4:28 juncture, the Lady Jackets reeled off 10 straight points, pushing the Lady Lobos into a 58-41 hole with 2:47 left in the quarter. Harris sank a free throw to start the surge, followed by a Grable jumper, then Harris added a traditional three-point play, another deuce and two more free throws.
“I told Chelsey at halftime that we were leaning on a freshman right now and I need my most consistent scorer to come with me, and she did that,” Denson said.
In the fourth period, the Lady Jackets maintained their double-digit advantage throughout the quarter, with Sul Ross getting no closer than 11 points at any point.
The Lady Jackets will shoot for back-to-back ASC wins for the first time this season at 5:30 p.m. Thursday when they visit Hardin-Simmons (10-6, 4-4) — a 56-39 winner over Concordia Saturday.