LAS VEGAS — Second chances only come around so often. Third chances even less.
Friday night, Wyoming needed a fourth.
Hayden Dalton made the 23rd-ranked team in the country pay for twice failing to bury the Cowboys, hitting a 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds left in regulation to tie the game, but Jeremy Lieberman’s 3 rimmed out at the end of overtime as Wyoming lost 94-92 to Southern California in the championship game of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic.
“We were encouraged with the way we played and how hard we played, but it’s just tough losing,” senior Jason McManamen said. “We felt like we had so many chances. We could have won that game. We just didn’t finish.”
The Trojans missed the back end of a one-and-one with 23 seconds to play and the front end of another 6 seconds later to give Dalton his opportunity to force the extra period. But Jordan McLaughlin’s layup with 3 seconds left in overtime kept Southern California undefeated.
The loss ended a seven-game winning streak for Wyoming and concluded the Cowboys’ non-conference season at 10-3.
McManamen and sophomore Justin James led Wyoming with 23 points apiece, though both were visibly distraught at points late in the game.
James threw the ball away between USC’s late missed free throws.
“That one killed me,” James said. “You probably saw my emotion on the court. To be honest with you, I thought it was over. My man Hayden Dalton saved the day.”
McManamen had a hot night, hitting his first three 3-point attempts and tying his season high with six treys, but he missed a free throw and three 3-point tries in overtime, any of which would have put Wyoming ahead.
After the game, the senior squatted down on the floor in disappointment until assistant coach Jermaine Kimbrough came to help him up.
“It was tough,” McManamen said. “I was frustrated with myself. I just felt like I could’ve hit one of those shots at the end of the game to give us the win. It didn’t go in today, and I’ve got to move on.”
Besides a play here and there, though, Wyoming had little reason to mope.
“Nothing to hang our heads about,” head coach Allen Edwards said. “Thought we went out there and put ourselves in position to win a championship. Always trying to find something that we can build off of as a group, something we can get better (at), but just love our energy and our competitive edge, our ability to compete.”
Dalton’s contributions weren’t limited to his game-tying 3-pointer. He posted 18 points and 18 rebounds for his fourth straight double-double — the first Cowboy to do that since Leonard Washington in 2012-13.
The Cowboys got out to a hot start, jumping out to a 15-6 lead before USC went on an 18-3 run. A 12-0 run regained Wyoming the lead, but the Trojans scored 10 points in a span of 75 seconds to take the lead, which they kept for the rest of the half.
Wyoming scored the first seven points out of halftime to take the lead for the first time in nearly 8 minutes on a Lieberman layup. A short USC burst flipped the lead yet again, but a McManamen layup put Wyoming ahead, where it would stay for nearly the next 10 minutes.
The Trojans later pushed the lead to four before Lou Adams and Dalton were fouled on consecutive defensive rebounds. With Wyoming in the bonus, their four made free throws tied the game. Wyoming outshot USC at the line 88 percent (21 of 24) to 67 percent (14 of 21).
Elijah Stewart added a layup and a free throw, but he missed the second free-throw attempt, and after De’Anthony Melton missed his first, Dalton’s 3 kept the game alive.
In overtime, the Trojans scored the opening points on a Jonah Mathews layup, but Wyoming went ahead with a James layup, a McManamen free throw and two James free throws. Mathews hit a 3-pointer to tie the game, Dalton scored on a layup, and the Trojans got two more layups to fall to win the game.
Lieberman’s game-winning attempt at the buzzer went in and out, much to the Cowboys’ dismay.
“We just had to get the ball in as quick as we can and Jeremy went up the floor as fast as he could and took a great shot,” McManamen said. “It didn’t fall. There’s some plays that we all wish we could have back that game, and we felt like we could have won, but we lost to a good team. We’ve got to learn from it.”
James and Dalton were named to the all-tournament team, despite starting neither game in Las Vegas. Wyoming’s loss was its first since Nov. 25, and all three of the Cowboys’ non-conference losses came against California teams. Southern California improved to 13-0.
Wyoming begins Mountain West play Wednesday against Air Force in Laramie.