The Howard Payne Lady Jackets recorded their most important victory of the season Thursday night at the Brownwood Coliseum, rallying from a fourth-quarter double-digit deficit to hand the American Southwest Conference West Division-leading Hardin-Simmons Cowgirls just their second league defeat, 76-73.
Trailing 60-50 at the start of the fourth period, the Lady Jackets closed the gap to a bucket, 64-62, with 6:20 left on a three-pointer by Chelsey Harris, who reeled off seven points in a row. Then, with 4:22 to go, a layup by Catlyn Ward pulled the Lady Jackets even at 66.
Knotted at 72 with 12 seconds left, Howard Payne (9-13, 5-8) took its first lead over Hardin-Simmons (17-5, 11-2) on a layup by Ward. Hardin-Simmons' Tiffany Gaffney was fouled with three seconds left, but made just one of two free throws. Bria Neal tacked on two free throws at the other end for the final three-point margin of victory for the Lady Jackets.
Neal led Howard Payne with 16 points followed by 12 each from Harris and Mallory Garcia, 10 from Lily Janek, nine from Ward, eight from Salina Ali, four each from Anastasia Willis and Delaney Ingram and one point from Julissa Ibarra.
Hardin-Simmons received 24 points from Kaitlyn Ellis, 19 from Gaffney and 15 from Parris Parmer.
The Lady Jackets surrendered 16 of the game's first 19 points. Down by 13 at the 5:11 juncture of the first quarter, HPU eventually reduced the deficit to a single point — 32-31 on a three-pointer by Garcia with 3:48 left in the half — before Hardin-Simmons stretched its lead back to seven points, 48-41, at halftime.
In the third period, the Lady Jackets were limited to just nine points, but Hardin-Simmons only managed 12, which increased the advantage to 60-50.
Howard Payne, which solidified its hold on fourth place in the ASC West with three games to go, will next host McMurry (9-13, 2-11) — which fell to Sul Ross, 77-64, Thursday night — at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Lady Jackets dropped the first meeting in Abilene, 75-63, on Jan. 9.