The Howard Payne Lady Jackets secured their 17th consecutive appearance in the American Southwest Conference women's basketball championship tournament Saturday, avenging an earlier loss to McMurry, 76-66, at the Brownwood Coliseum.
By virtue of its win, fourth-place Howard Payne (10-13, 6-8) owns a two-game edge over fifth-place Sul Ross (6-17, 4-10) with two games to play — and the head-to-head tiebreaker due to sweeping the season series.
HPU also moved into a third-place tie in the ASC West with Concordia (9-14, 6-8), which comes to Brownwood for the regular season finale next Saturday. The top four teams from each division advance to the conference tournament, which will be hosted by the ASC East champion Feb. 27-29.
The Lady Jackets, who fell to McMurry (9-14, 2-12) by a 75-63 count in Abilene on Jan. 9, completed a weekend home sweep after also knocking off ASC West co-leader Hardin-Simmons, 76-73, in comeback fashion Thursday night.
In Saturday's outing, Howard Payne shot 41 percent (24 of 59) from the floor, 33 percent (5 of 15) from three-point range and 68 percent (23 of 34) at the free throw line. The Lady Jackets were outrebounded 42-40, but committed just 12 turnovers while forcing 20.
Chelsey Harris finished with a team-high 16 points for the Lady Jackets trailed by 15 from Bria Neal, 14 from Salina Ali, 12 from Anastasia Willis, eight from Lily Janek, four from Catlyn Ward, three from Mallory Garcia and two points apiece from Julissa Ibarra and Delaney Ingram.
McMurry knocked down 41 percent (26 of 63) of its field goal attempts, 26 percent (6 of 23) of its treys, and just 47 percent (8 of 17) of its free throw tries.
Destiny Mathews posted a double-double of 22 points and 10 rebounds, as did Skyler Reyna with 18 points and 10 boards. Trinity Meador also finished in double figures with 12 points.
The Lady Jackets trailed 15-12 after one quarter, 33-29 at halftime and were down 43-38 with 4:21 left in the third. There, the Lady Jackets began to wrestle away the momentum, starting with a run of eight straight points. A Janek three-pointer and two free throws from Harris tied the score at 43 at the 3:16 mark. Willis followed with a traditional three-point play at 2:29 to put HPU up 46-43.
McMurry fought back and evened the score at 48, but Ali converted a three-pointer as the third quarter ended to give the lead back the Lady Jackets, 51-48.
Another three-pointer from Janek with 7:10 left pushed HPU's lead to 61-54, but McMurry stormed back again to even the score at 63 with 5:17 remaining.
A three-pointer by Ali at 5:05 gave the Lady Jackets the lead, and Garcia followed with a trey of her own with 3:57 to go to stretch the advantage to 69-63.
The two teams combined for just one point over the next 3:11 — a free throw by McMurry — until Willis' jumper with 47 seconds left pushed HPU's advantage to three possessions, 71-64.
The Lady Jackets welcome the other ASC West co-leader, Mary Hardin-Baylor (19-4, 12-2) — a 67-64 winner over LeTourneau Saturday — at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. HPU dropped the first meeting with UMHB, 112-70, on Feb. 8.