The Howard Payne Yellow Jackets snapped a season-long six-game losing streak, and in the process jumped into the thick of the American Southwest Conference West Division race following Saturday’s 73-65 victory over the Sul Ross Lobos at the Brownwood Coliseum.
By virtue of their first win, the Yellow Jackets (1-6, 1-4) vaulted into a fourth-place tie with Sul Ross (1-7, 1-4) in the ASC West standings in what, so far, has been a down year for the division. The top four teams from the West will advance to the ASC championship tournament Feb. 26-28 at the site of the West champion.
Howard Payne trailed by 10 points with 6:19 left in the first half, by three points at halftime and was behind 54-49 with just 8:31 remaining before outscoring Sul Ross by a 24-11 count down the stretch.
“I’m very excited and so happy for our guys,” said HPU head coach Troy Drummond. “The first win is always the hardest and I’m thankful that we got it. I’m proud of our kids from coming back in the second half. They kept fighting and that’s a key for us. We have to keep at it.”
The Yellow Jackets drilled 47 percent (29-of-62) of their shots, including 60 percent (18-of-30) in the second half. Howard Payne also connected on 86 percent (12-of-14) of its free throws, while Sul Ross converted only 40 percent (8-of-20) from the charity stripe, which plagued the Loboes as their lead dwindled late.
Keith Perry led Howard Payne’s contingent of five double-digit scorers with 15 points, trailed by 14 from Brandon Irwin, 12 each from Quentin Calloway and Daniel Bubel and 10 points from Henry Valladares. Also scoring for HPU were John Bryant with six points and Kanyon Payne with four points.
Of the Yellow Jackets’ 73 points and 34 rebounds, 30 points and nine boards came off the bench.
“The bench came in and really helped us,” Drummond said. “We talked before the game and at halftime about playing with intensity and passion and we weren’t getting that done. But the bench came in and showed passion and intensity and I’m really proud of them.”
Sul Ross was led by 16 points from Travis Johnson, 13 points and seven rebounds from Steven Johunkin and eight points and 10 boards from Chris Jones.
Trailing 54-49 midway through the second half, the Yellow Jackets pieced together an 8-2 run to gain their first advantage — 57-56 with 6:35 left — since the 13:59 mark of the first half.
Howard Payne’s surge began with a layup by Calloway, then Perry scored on a drive at the 7:57 mark to trim the deficit to 54-53. After a bucket by Johunkin, HPU answered with field goals from Payne and Calloway to grab the lead and ignite an 8-0 run.
Perry and Bubel followed by converting shots in the paint as the Yellow Jackets seized a 61-56 edge with 4:59 remaining.
Once HPU regained the lead, it managed to gradually stretch the advantage as Bryant scored with 1:06 left to increase the cushion to 67-60. The Yellow Jackets’ lead peaked at nine points, 71-62, on a pair of free throws by Perry with nine seconds left.
Howard Payne will return to action at 3 p.m. Saturday as it travels to Louisiana College (4-4, 3-1).