HPU evens ASC mark with 10th victory overall

The Howard Payne Lady Jackets are hitting their stride at the right time of the season as they notched their fourth straight victory over an American Southwest Conference opponent, downing West Division No. 3 seed Hardin-Simmons, 76-61, Saturday at the Brownwood Coliseum.

“It’s a pleasure to enjoy a game like this today and great tradition,” Lady Jackets first-year head coach Yannick Denson said during his postgame radio interview. “We had a great crowd here today. I haven’t seen the Coliseum like this since I got here and it’s a pleasure that we’ve worked to this level of support and appreciation.”

The victory — the 10th of the season for Howard Payne, which also evened its ASC mark — locks the Lady Jackets (10-13, 7-7) in as the third seed from the West for the ASC women’s basketball championship tournament, which will be hosted by West No. 1 seed Mary Hardin-Baylor Feb. 21-23.

“We understood what we were fighting for after we started the way we started in conference,” Denson said. “These young ladies know what they want. They all had goals before the year started and the only way to get to those goals is if we continue to progress and continue to win.”

Howard Payne avenged a narrow 68-64 loss to Hardin-Simmons in Abilene on Jan. 17 by racing out to a 26-7 lead early in the second period.

“I thought we came out really quick and dictated the tempo which was part of the game plan,” Denson said. “We wanted to make them play our speed and not play at theirs. That to me always solidifies what kind of game is going to be played from start to finish.”

Chelsey Harris’ 33-point effort ignited an HPU offense that shot 44 percent from the floor (27 of 61), including 5 of 14 on three-pointers, and 71 percent (17 of 24) at the free throw line. HPU also owned a 51-31 edge in rebounds.

Caprica Brooks and Payge Grable finished in double figures as well with 13 points apiece trailed by Anastasia Willis with seven points and a team-high 15 rebounds, Salina Ali with four points, Lily Janek with three, Jordan Sweat with two and Chelsi Woodard with one point.

Hardin-Simmons was limited to 33 percent (20 of 61) shooting as Taylor Gaffney led the way with 17 points and Maria Fernandez chipped in 14.

“We’re going to continue to move in the right direction and prepare ourselves for the conference tournament,” Denson said. “We’re not going to look too far ahead because we have two great opponents next week in Concordia and UMHB.”

The Lady Jackets venture to Concordia (7-16, 3-11) at 5:30 p.m. Thursday and travel to Mary Hardin-Baylor (21-2, 13-1) for Saturday’s 1 p.m. regular-season finale.