Clarksville, Ark.-The Lady Eagles (19-6) needed a second half comeback to overcome a physical Howard Payne team to advance to the American Southwest Conference tournament finals.
Behind a 30-point performance from Mandy Thomas, the Lady Eagles defeated the Lady Yellow Jackets 87-79 and will face Hardin-Simmons University at 3:00 p.m. on February 23. The Lady Eagles were down by as much as ten points with nine minutes remaining in the game, but staged a furious comeback behind the play of Thomas. After trailing Howard Payne 43-39 at half time, Thomas scored a majority of her points in the final ten minutes. "Mandy got in a hot streak and they were unable to shut her down," said head coach Jack Jones. "I called a timeout and I was frustrated because the kids didn’t look like they had any intensity. I told them not to give up. It just seemed like we were trying to get 12 points on one possession. But I knew we had to get some stops and rebound better and then Mandy took over." Several buckets by Thomas closed the Lady Yellow Jackets lead and two Christie Shuffield free throws put the Lady Eagles ahead for good with 6:38 left in the game. Jennifer Goodwin nailed a three-pointer with 4:40 left to make the score 76-69. "Goodwin had a big three-pointer in a key moment and she played hard-nosed defense the entire night," said Jones. "I thought Kristy Watts had a complete game and she hit some critical free throws down the stretch. Christie Shuffield was double teamed whenever she got the ball down low, but she rebounded well and hit some key free throw shots late in the game." Watts finished with 18 points and Shuffield scored 12 points and grabbed a game high 11 rebounds. Corbell had 10 points and Goodwin finished with 6 points. The Lady Eagles will take on a Cowgirls team that has only lost once this season. "We match up real well with Hardin Simmons," said Jones. "It should be a great game. Kendra Anderson posts up so strong, we don’t know if we are going to front her or just stay behind her." The Lady Eagles are 23-1 over the last two seasons at home and another packed Mabee Gymnasium should provide for another exciting environment. "This was a fantastic atmosphere," said Jones. "Our fans were pumped up for tonight’s game and we will need them to be vocal again tomorrow." The winner of the tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAA III tournament.