LARAMIE — Hayden Dalton is a confident player. It would be hard to score 36 points in a Mountain West game, as the senior forward did Wednesday, without some level of confidence.
Of course, it would also be hard to score that many points and not let the other team hear about it. Dalton jawed through his allotted warnings in the 82-69 win over San Diego State and was issued a technical.
“We’ll probably talk about that later,” Wyoming head coach Allen Edwards said with a laugh. “And I thought the ref did a great job, because he had mentioned to me. And I mentioned it to H. But I think that’s the beauty for me being a former player, that (I understand that) it does get competitive. And at the end of the day, I get it. But you don’t want it to come back and bite you, more so than anything.”
It did not. In fact, it appeared to do the opposite. After Aztec junior Devin Watson made both free throws off Dalton’s technical, the second T of the game, Wyoming rode a 10-0 run to take a lead it never relinquished.
“I was just talking a little bit too much out there,” said Dalton, who also had 15 rebounds and five assists. “I was having fun, being competitive, and the refs had told me to stop before, but I was having fun out there, so I got the technical.
“I don’t think that sparked us. I think that in the timeouts, we really came together as a team, and it wasn’t only the coaches talking. It was the guys, and we were looking at each other and saying, ‘We got up six, we got up 10, and sometimes we’ll slip back.’ But we didn’t want to do that tonight at all. And we want to continue to not do that.”
Dalton’s play made sure they didn’t. His 36 points surpassed the career high of 30 he had set in Wyoming’s season opener against Chattanooga. He tied one career high with five made 3-pointers and set another with 11 made free throws.
Dalton hit nearly 60 percent of his shots from the floor (10 of 17) and more than half his 3-pointers (5 of 9). No player had scored 36 points in the Arena-Auditorium since Ugo Udezue did it in 1998. The performance is tied for the 25th most points scored in a single game by a Division I player this season. Dalton now leads Wyoming with 17.5 points per game, surpassing Justin James.
“I mean, over the summer when I first came here, he was the first guy I saw working in the gym,” Wyoming freshman Hunter Maldonado said of Dalton. “He’s one of the hardest workers I know. So this kind of stuff can happen any given night. He’s a very hard-working person, and to me, it doesn’t surprise me when nights like this happen.”
Edwards had been hoping for a night like that as the Cowboys were beginning conference play after a four-game home stand that had produced three wins but little in the way of optimism for Wyoming’s Mountain West hopes.
“To be honest with you, after these four games, the one thing I was saying, I was like, ‘At some point, one of these guys has got to have a go-off game to kind of get us back on,’ and it happened to be H.D. tonight,” Edwards said. “And the beauty about it is when you get that guy going, you try to get him as many attempts as you can within the offense. And I thought our guys recognized that, and got him the basketball, and we started calling sets for him.”
Dalton’s two 30-point outings have come on down nights for James, Wyoming’s preseason all-conference guard. But Edwards didn’t think that changed Dalton’s approach any.
“I think H. goes into every game thinking, ‘I’m going to get 30,’” Edwards said. “I don’t think he goes in thinking, ‘I’m going to get five.’ That’s just not his makeup. But I thought he was really amped up for conference play, to be honest with you, and at the end of the day, it is San Diego State, and I thought this was a renewed opportunity on the season, and sometimes when you get those first two to go in, that goal gets bigger and bigger.”
The Cowboys, predicted to finish seventh in the Mountain West, began conference play 1-0 for the second straight year with the win over San Diego State, picked second in the preseason poll. After a bye Saturday, Wyoming gets a shot at the conference’s defending regular-season and tournament champion, Wednesday at Nevada.