The Howard Payne Lady Jackets all but locked up the West Division third seed for the American Southwest Conference women’s basketball championship tournament with Thursday night’s 82-76 victory over McMurry at the Brownwood Coliseum.
With three games left in the regular season, the Lady Jackets (9-13, 6-7) lead fourth-place McMurry (7-16, 4-10) by 2.5 games, but own the tiebreaker due to completing the season sweep Thursday night. Concordia (7-15, 3-10) and Sul Ross (5-17, 3-10), tied for fifth place, are three games back. The Lady Jackets swept Sul Ross, and will visit the Lady Tornados on Valentine’s Day. A victory by Howard Payne Saturday against Hardin-Simmons (16-6, 10-4) or a Concordia loss at Mary Hardin-Baylor (20-2, 12-1) will wrap up third place for the Lady Jackets.
Thursday’s win over McMurry mirrored HPU’s 67-63 win in Abilene on Jan. 19 in many facets — mostly that the Lady Jackets overcame a number of early deficits and stole the victory with a strong finish.
Howard Payne trailed by 11 points at the end of the first period, 21-10, but closed the gap to 38-36 by halftime and carried a 57-56 edge into the final stanza after climbing out of a 10-point hole.
The Lady Jackets converted 47 percent (27 of 57) of their shots, including 4 of 8 three-pointers, and knocked down 65 percent (24 of 37) of their free throws. HPU also forced 22 turnovers, which led to 31 points, and helped overcome a narrow 37-36 deficit in rebounds.
Chelsey Harris led the Lady Jackets with 23 points trailed by 20 from Payge Grable, 16 from Anastasia Willis, 11 from Salina Ali, eight from Caprica Brooks and two points apiece from Lily Janek and Chelsi Woodard.
McMurry sank 48 percent (28 of 58) of its field goals, including 5 of 15 three-pointers, and drained 63 percent (15 of 24) of its free throws — but attempted 13 fewer than HPU.
Skyler Reyna poured in a game-high 31 points for McMurry followed by 19 from London Weilert and 15 from Sarah Doherty.
Down 21-11 early in the second period, the Lady Jackets showed their first signs of offensive life when Grable and Harris drained consecutive treys to close the gap to 21-17 at the 8:05 mark.
McMurry stretched the lead back to nine points, 31-22, at 3:38, but the Lady Jackets surged back within a bucket before the second period ended. HPU reeled off seven points in row — free throws by Grable and Brooks, a layup by Grable and a Harris trey — to reduce the deficit to 31-29 at 2:50.
Trailing 36-30, HPU finished the half with a 6-2 run as Brooks knocked down a 15-foot jumper just before the buzzer.
In the third period, the Lady Jackets found themselves in a 52-42 hole at the 4:21 mark, but answered with a 15-4 run to snatch the lead by quarter’s end. Buckets by Harris and Willis, followed by two Willis free throws and a deuce from Ali closed the gap to 52-50.
HPU then answered two McMurry free throws with one by Ali, a layup from Woodard and the go-ahead bucket by Harris with 33 seconds left in the third. After McMurry regained a 56-55 edge, Willis scored with six seconds left in the frame.
In the fourth, Howard Payne hung on thanks to 62 percent (8 of 13) shooting from the floor and 75 percent (9 of 12) shooting at the free throw line.
Tied at 75 with 48 seconds left, Willis put HPU in front for good with a bucket in the paint. McMurry mustered just one free throw down the stretch, while the Lady Jackets made four of their last five attempts at the charity stripe to seal the victory.