Backed into a corner. That's how Howard College Head Coach Earl Diddle described the Lady Hawks, who have struggled to establish dominance since Western Junior College Athletic Conference play began.
However, on Saturday, HC may have found their rhythm against one of the best team in the conference, defeating South Plains College 54-52 in gritty fashion.
“I'm really proud of the way they came back,” Diddle said. “They did a great job defensively, they rebounded the ball — their spirit in the second half was really good.”
It was a tight game from the start, with the Lady Hawks down 25-24 at the half.
Then, HC's offense sputtered a bit while the Lady Texans — who defeated the Hawks in their first meeting of the year, 53-50 — appeared to be pulling away.
Oddly, the momentum began to shift in HC's favor when one of its integral players, point guard Marion Lemonnier — went down with an injury.
It is unsure at this time how long Lemonnier — who suffered a pulled hamstring — will be out. Diddle is hoping it is no more than two or three weeks, but in the meantime, he plans on splitting the responsibilities at point guard between Sarah Stinnett and Destinee Thrash.
Brittany Aikens — who led HC with 14 points — sank a three-pointer to cut SPC's lead to six. With under seven minutes to go, Sundown native Anitria Flowers made a pair of baskets and the rally was on.
“(Aikens) had a great game for us,” Diddle said. “We told her we needed her to respond and she did.”
With 3:16 remaining on the clock, Aikens swished another three-point shot, giving the Lady Hawks their first lead of the half and then drew a foul on a shot and made both free throws to put the HC up 54-51 with just over two minutes to go.
A foul on South Plains led to two free throws, but only one went in. Then, the Lady Texans committed a costly turnover when an errant pass went out of bounds.
The Hawks then turned the ball over and were charged with another foul, but SPC missed both shots. Lady Texans Coach Michelle Wyatt called a timeout with 10 seconds left on the clock, but time expired before they had a chance to tie it.
The key to the victory, according to Diddle, was second half adjustments dealing with the post.
“South Plains was covering the post,” Diddle explained. “They would get on one side and drop another player. We had to recognize it better. Our offensive players were psoting up am space, instead of posting up their man. We had to have better vision.”
The Lady Hawks improved to 5-5 in WJCAC play (17-9 overall). They will travel to Hobbs, N.M. On Thursday, where they will try to avenge a six-point loss to New Mexico Junior College.
“I think it'll be a great game,” Diddle added. “New Mexico has a lot of different ways they can score. We will have to grind their three-point shooters.”
The Hawks (8-3) may have gone a long way to ensure themselves entry into the regional championship Saturday as they took care busisness against South Plains College, defeating the Texans 63-55 after a strong second half showing.
Down by eight points at the half, Howard College began to battle back, with sophomore Jacob Thomas leading the charge. With 15 minutes to go, he caught fire, scoring 13 points in under two minutes, including game-tying and go-ahead back-to-back three-point shots.
By the time Thomas cooled off, the Hawks had built a 14-point lead.
Sharp shooting from the free throw line sealed the deal for the Hawks, as their final six points were scored on fouls.
The Hawks' next challenge will come on the road Thursday against the New Mexico Junior College Thunderbirds.
Game time is set for 7:45 p.m.