The prospect of Wyoming men’s basketball splitting its two games this week didn’t sound all that terrible at the beginning of the week. The Cowboys had a home game against New Mexico before traveling to Fresno State to play a Bulldogs team that earlier this month handed Wyoming its worst conference loss of the season.
After dropping that game to New Mexico, though — in a game in which the Cowboys allowed 119 points in 40 minutes, no less — the idea of a split almost seemed far-fetched.
But, sure enough, the unpredictable Pokes went into Save Mart arena and beat Fresno State 78-68 on Saturday, largely boosted by a 25-7 run to end the first half. It’s just the second time Wyoming has won at Fresno State.
When the teams played Feb. 3 in Laramie, Fresno State ended third-place Wyoming’s four-game winning streak by beating the Cowboys by more points than any other Mountain West team in the Allen Edwards era (18). Saturday, Wyoming led by as many as 17 points and ended the third-place Bulldogs’ five-game winning streak.
In another reversal, Fresno State went into halftime up 46-30 in Laramie. Saturday, Wyoming led 46-29 at the break, scoring the most first-half points of any Fresno State opponent this season.
Junior guard Justin James scored 26 points to lead Wyoming, tying a career high with four 3-pointers. Hayden Dalton scored 17, though just two came after halftime. Fellow senior Alexander Aka Gorski added 11 points.
The Cowboys fell behind 5-0 to start the game, but that was their largest deficit of the half. The 25-7 run, which gave Wyoming its largest lead of the game, took place during a torrid final 7:12 of the first half, in which Wyoming hit 10-of-12 shots. The Cowboys had made just 2 of their first 12 shots in the game and shot 35.8 percent from the floor the first time they played Fresno State, their worst in Mountain West play. Wyoming shot 50 percent from the field and 3-point line in the first half and 100 percent from the free-throw line.
The Cowboys did not carry that momentum into the second half, however. Wyoming had five turnovers in the second half before it made a field goal, and Fresno State opened the second half on a 12-2 run to get within seven. After the Bulldogs got the lead down to six, Lou Adams went on a personal 5-0 run to give Wyoming more of a cushion. The Cowboys went more than 7 minutes without a field goal after that, however.
In fact, Wyoming only had seven field goals in all of the second half, four of which were scored by James. The Bulldogs got as close as five points in the second half, but a 3:25 scoring drought after getting there all but did them in.
The win was Wyoming’s fourth on the road in conference play, ending a two-game road losing streak.
Jahmel Taylor and Bryson Williams led Fresno State (20-9 overall, 10-6 Mountain West) with 16 points apiece, and Ray Bowles scored 11 before fouling out. Nate Grimes had a game-high 10 rebounds. Grimes, who had eight points Saturday, scored a career-high 20 points the first time the teams played. Jaron Hopkins played just 12 minutes due to injury.
Wyoming was without starting freshman guard Hunter Maldonado, who suffered an ankle injury against New Mexico and is expected to be day-to-day going forward, per UW athletics. Maldonado was on crutches at Saturday’s game.
Sophomore forward Andrew Moemeka made his second start of the season in place of Maldonado, and senior Alan Herndon returned to the starting lineup. Herndon played just seven minutes against New Mexico because of the flu, and Moemeka started in his place.
Fresno State’s winning streak had begun with its 80-62 win in Laramie. Also starting with that game, Wyoming had lost four of their last six.
The Cowboys (18-11, 9-7) were in desperate need of a win, coming into the weekend tied with UNLV and San Diego State for fifth in the Mountain West. The top five teams in the conference get a first-round bye at the conference tournament in Las Vegas. San Diego State beat last-place San Jose State on the road Saturday, and UNLV plays at New Mexico on Sunday. A Rebels win would create a four-team tie for fourth place with one week remaining in the regular season.
Wyoming, which now has its most conference wins under Edwards, hosts Air Force and plays at Boise State to close out the regular season.