LAS VEGAS — It wasn’t easy for Alan Herndon to watch Wyoming allow 119 points to New Mexico last month in Laramie. The senior, recently voted the Mountain West defensive player of the year by league media, was dealing with the flu during Wyoming’s Feb. 20 loss and played just 7 minutes in the highest-scoring game in Arena-Auditorium history.
Thursday, in what will likely be Herndon’s final college basketball game, he got another shot at the Lobos.
“I was just very eager,” he said. “Last game, I was dealing with some sickness and just to have to sit there and watch that score in the hundreds for both teams, it kind of hurt a little bit. This time, I just wanted to make sure I try to go out there and just be effective.
“Wasn’t that great in the first half. Didn’t contribute to any of the rebounding. Was able to pick it up in the second half, but that first half, it dictates a lot. So, it did hurt.”
Herndon presumably had something to do with the fact that this game, played at far less of a breakneck pace, produced 73 fewer points than the last Wyoming-New Mexico meeting. According to analyst Ken Pomeroy, there were 28 fewer possessions in Wednesday’s game, a 85-75 New Mexico win, than the one in Laramie.
Herndon had five rebounds and a block in the game, and Wyoming won the points in the paint battle, 36-32. But Herndon might have been an even bigger factor on the other half of that equation. He scored a team-high 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including the Cowboys’ first three field goals of the game. He had five dunks in the game and could have had a sixth on a wide-open lay-in.
“Coach always says all year, ‘Just attack,’” Herndon said. “I can create a lot of mismatches with what I can do, so I was just taking what the defense was giving me and making sure I was trying to kill it constantly. My teammates were just hitting me in great positions.
“I just had an attack mentality. Sometimes it’s that win-or-go-home that can do it to you.”
Herndon was Wyoming’s leading scorer in the tournament with 34 points. He shot a combined 15-of-20, good for 75 percent, while making 3-of-6 3-pointers (50 percent).
The Cowboys’ most dangerous attribute coming into the Mountain West tournament might have been their individual scoring threats. Wyoming was the first team in the country this year to notch four different 30-point scorers, and two of them, Justin James and Hayden Dalton, earned first-team all-conference honors from Mountain West media. (Per the league’s coaches, James was a first-teamer and Dalton a second-teamer.)
In conference play, the duo comprised two of the Mountain West’s four leading scorers. Thursday, though, they scored a combined 21 points on 8-of-28 shooting.
James was far less efficient than he had been in Wyoming’s win Wednesday against San Jose State, when he scored 24 points on 9-of-9 shooting. Head coach Allen Edwards commended him afterward for not forcing anything offensively, but that wasn’t always the case Thursday, as New Mexico often put two or three defenders in his path. James, whose streak of nine straight games with double-digit points ended Thursday, suffered an ankle injury midway through the second half, though he returned to the game.
Dalton’s shot didn’t seem to be as well-calibrated as usual, as the 84 percent free throw shooter missed both of his attempts at the line and made fewer than 30 percent of his 3-pointers — though he did have two crucial offensive rebounds. Against San Jose State, Dalton shot 4-of-14 from the field for 10 points.
Together, James and Dalton combined for fewer points than they had in any Mountain West game this season, the previous low being 29 in Wyoming’s loss to Fresno State. In fact, there were 15 conference games this year in which one of them singlehandedly scored 21-plus points and four games in which they both reached that mark.
The Cowboys had only had two Mountain West games this season without a 20-point scorer before Thursday: Jan. 13 against Colorado State, a game in which they lost to the eventual 10th-place Rams, and Feb. 28 against Air Force, a low-scoring win in which the Cowboys allowed their fewest points of the season.
Herndon and senior guard Lou Adams were Wyoming’s other 30-point scorers this season. Adams, whose 30-point performance came in Wyoming’s last game against New Mexico, got his third start of the year but took just two shots from the field and had seven points.