Now that the Howard Payne Lady Jackets are the No. 1-ranked team in the country, they demonstrated exactly why they deserve such high accolades.

Sparked by a 50-2 run over an 18:55 stretch of the first and second halves, the Lady Jackets crushed the University of the Ozarks Lady Eagles, 88-24, in American Southwest Conference action Saturday at the Brownwood Coliseum.

Between the 17:46 mark of the first half and the 18:51 juncture of the second half, Howard Payne (4-0, 2-0) strung together runs of 27 and 23 consecutive points, sandwiched around an Ozarks (0-4, 0-2) jumper with 5:58 left before halftime.

Through their first three games of the season, the Lady Jackets had played their best ball after intermission. Saturday, however, was one of HPU’s most dominant start-to-finish performances during Chris Kielsmeier’s tenure as head coach.

“This was the kind of game I was looking for,” Kielsmeier said. “We’d won the first three games with our kids playing really hard and with great passion, but the system had not been clicking. We weren’t playing quite as hard as we needed to defensively and offensively, I felt like we were too individualized and relying on Meia (Daniels) and Stacey (Blalock) too much. They both had great games today, but we had great balance all game and the system really worked.”

Daniels and Blalock poured in 20 points apiece for Howard Payne, which shot shot 52 percent (34-of-65) from the floor, hit 3-of-8 three-pointers and nailed 17-of-26 free throws.

Fellow starters Kim Hoffman, Hope Hohertz and Stephanie Brewer added nine, seven and six points, respectively. The bench — which totaled 26 points — was led by eight points from freshman Katy Sarem and five each from sophomore Elaine Hobbs and senior Daphnie Pippins.

“I thought our younger kids really grew up today,” Kielsmeier said. “That’s the kind of thing we need to happen early in the season because we’re really going to need them down the stretch.”

Olivia Fisher and Erica Eneks were the only two Lady Eagles that scored, finishing with 14 and 10 points, respectively. Ozarks — which entered the contest averaging 74 points per game — shot just 24 percent (11-of-45), turned the ball over 34 times, lost the rebounding battle, 47-22, and did not attempt a free throw.

“Our defense really turned it up another level tonight and I was really looking for that,” Kielsmeier said. “We had played good defense the first three games, but we hadn’t played great defense. I told our players they had been playing hard compared to most other teams, but playing Howard Payne University women’s basketball gives them a special bounce to their step. They really gave that kind of effort today.”

Kielsmeier has stated repeatedly throughout the early portion of the season that the Lady Jackets’ best basketball is still way ahead of them. Following Saturday’s performance, that prospect should create a great deal of concern for the rest of the ASC — as well as the nation.

“I really believe this team is starting to figure it out,” Kielsmeier said. “They’re really growing up and playing a lot harder every day and that’s fun to watch. I’ve been telling people this team is going to get better and better and you’ll see their best basketball in February and March.”

Ozarks grabbed a 4-2 lead on Fisher’s bucket 2:14 into the game, which turned out to be the worst thing the Lady Eagles could do.

HPU responded with a 27-0 run over the next 11:48 to seize firm control, 29-4.

Brewer’s three-pointer put Howard Payne ahead for good, 7-4, at the 16:30 mark. Hoffman added the next four points, then Daniels scored six in a row to up the lead to 16-4.

Blalock added six points of her own to boost the advantage to 22-4, then Sarem sank a free throw and Hobbs made a short jumper as the lead eclipsed 20 points, 25-4, with 7:52 left in the half. Pippins and Mionca Hall added buckets to cap the run.

Howard Payne’s halftime advantage stood at 48-6 following another string of 19 straight points. Blalock and Daniels each tallied eight of the final 19 points in the first half, Hobbs added two points and Hoffman contributed a free throw.

Ozarks shot just 14 percent (3-of-21) in the first half and Fisher scored all six points.

The 50-2 run culminated 59 seconds into the second half when Daniels scored to push the lead to 52-6.

Ozarks matched its six-point first-half total by the 17:42 mark of the second half.

HPU’s lead peaked at 67 points, 81-14, with 4:57 left in the game. Leading 54-14 with 17:14 left, the Lady Jackets reeled off their second 27-point run to open their largest lead.

The No. 1 Lady Jackets will be back in action Tuesday as they host Dallas Christian at 7 p.m. at the Brownwood Coliseum in non-conference action.

“I like being No. 1 and I hope our team appreciates the special opportunity they’ve got,” Kielsmeier said. “There’s some pressure that comes with it, but what kind of pressure to do want? Do you want people to not have high expectations? It’s a big deal for our program and everybody works hard to put ourselves in the position we’re in. I relish all this.”

No. 1 Lady Jackets 88,

Univ. of Ozarks 24

Univ. of Ozarks 6 18 — 24

Howard Payne 48 40 — 88

Leading scorers

Ozarks (0-4, 0-2): Olivia Fisher 14, Erica Eneks 10.

HPU (4-0, 2-0): Meia Daniels 20, Stacey Blalock 20, Kim Hoffman 9, Katy Sarem 8, Hope Hohertz 7, Stephanie Brewer 6, Daphnie Pippins 5, Elaine Hobbs 5, Sarah Pfieter 4, Mionca Hall 2, Sarah Jockers 2.