Bulletin Staff Report

PINEVILLE, La. — The Howard Payne Lady Jackets squandered a 14-point second-half lead Saturday and their opportunity to capture a fourth straight American Southwest Conference championship. Now HPU’s season rests in the hands of the NCAA tournament selection committee.

The ASC East champion and 17th-ranked Louisiana College Lady Cats rallied for a 68-55 victory in ASC tournament semifinal action, and will face ASC West No. 3 seed McMurry (18-9) in today’s 2 p.m. conference championship game.

Howard Payne (21-6) led 52-38 with 10:08 remaining in the contest, but Louisiana College (23-2) answered with an astonishing 30-3 closing surge. The Lady Jackets converted just one of their last 11 field goal attempts — a Brittany Zamora three-pointer at the 6:20 mark — and committed 11 turnovers down the stretch.

The only good news to come out of Saturday is the Lady Jackets’ ranking of No. 5 in the NCAA South Region, which they carried into the ASC tournament. The Lady Jackets did fall to a team ranked ahead of them as Louisiana College, No. 3 in the South, improved to 13-0 at home.

Despite their ranking in the South, the Lady Jackets aren’t guaranteed a slot in the NCAA tournament field. However, being two years removed from a national championship, and having seven straight 20-win seasons and five consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament to their credit could bode well for the Lady Jackets.

Howard Payne controlled the majority of the first 30 minutes of action against Louisiana College before its stunning collapse.

The Lady Jackets shot 52 percent (13-of-25) from the floor in the first half and 40 percent (4-of-10) from beyond the three-point arc, but finished just 21-of-52 overall (41 percent), 7-of-25 (28 percent) from three-point land and committed 16 of their 26 turnovers in the last 20 minutes.

Louisiana College drilled 47 percent (26-of-55) of its shots, 36 percent ( 4-of-11) of its three-pointers and turned the ball over just 14 times.

Tillisha Givens paced the Lady Cats’ attack with 26 points, followed by 18 points from Christy Pantallion and 11 points from Briana Lewis.

Elaine Hobbs sparked the Lady Jackets with 20 points and nine rebounds, followed by 16 points from Zamora, seven points and eight rebounds from Roshonda Gayden, five points from Katy Sarem, three points from Clarissa Krum and two points each from Hope Hohertz and Sarah Pfiester.

Howard Payne owned a 36-27 halftime lead that reached double figures, 40-29, for the first time with 17:11 left on a bucket by Hobbs.

Louisiana College had shaved HPU’s lead to seven points on a couple of occasions, but a quick seven-point Lady Jacket spurt — capped by a Zamora three-pointer — resulted in Howard Payne’s largest lead, 52-38, with 10:08 left.

From that point on, the game belonged to Louisiana College.

The Lady Cats strung together 14 unanswered points to draw even at 52-all, highlighted by Roslyn Wilmer’s game-tying three-pointer with 7:22 remaining.

Howard Payne finally stopped the bleeding as a trey from Zamora put the Lady Jackets back in front, 55-52, with 6:20 remaining, but HPU did not score again.

Lewis knocked down a three-pointer for Louisiana College with 5:51 left, which tied the game at 55, then Pantallion drained a jumper at 5:20 to give the Lady Cats the lead for good, 57-55. Louisiana College tacked on 11 more unanswered points.

The Lady Jackets trailed 7-0 just 2:13 into the contest and were down 12-5 before piecing together a 10-1 run to grab their first lead, 15-13, with 11:07 left in the first half.

Gayden started the run with a traditional three-point play, then Sarem sank a trey to close the gap to 12-11 at the 12:34 mark. After a free throw by Givens made the score 13-11, Hobbs sank a jumper to pull Howard Payne even at 13-all at the 11:54 juncture. Gayden then converted a jumper 47 seconds later to give the Lady Jackets their two-point edge.

Knotted at 17, the Lady Jackets ran off 10 of the next 12 points to take a 27-19 advantage.

At 8:43, Hobbs drilled a three-pointer to snap the tie and give the Lady Jackets their largest lead to that point, 20-17. Zamora then sank two free throws at 7:24 to stretch the lead to 22-17. Following a Voneshia Williams bucket for Louisiana College, Hobbs recorded the next five points on a jumper and a trey, which extended the Lady Jackets’ lead to 27-19 at the 4:31 mark.

The Lady Jackets’ first-half lead peaked at nine points, 34-25, on a three-point play by Zamora with 35 seconds left. Pfiester also drained a jumper with 14 seconds remaining in the half to keep HPU’s halftime cushion at nine points.

Hobbs led HPU with 14 first-half points — sinking 5-of-8 field goals, 2-of-3 three-pointers and both of her free throws — while Zamora chipped in eight points in the opening 20 minutes.