LARAMIE — In Friday night’s season opener against Chattanooga, the Wyoming Cowboys looked like they might coast to an easy win to tip off their new season. Instead, they were derailed by an old habit.
Paced by a red-hot Hayden Dalton, who finished with a career-high 30 points, the Cowboys built a first-half lead of 16 against the Mocs of the Southern Conference. But Wyoming lacked its 3-point touch in the second half and allowed the Mocs to get within six points before sleepwalking to a 74-65 win.
“One thing we were just discussing in the locker room was our team has a tendency to drop energy in the second half,” sophomore Cody Kelley said. “It’s hard for us to get over the hump sometimes. A couple things won’t go our way in the second half, and we need to start fighting through that and continue to play basketball for 40 minutes.”
On the one hand, Wyoming was without senior sharpshooter Alexander Aka Gorski, who has a twisted ankle, and sophomore center Andrew Moemeka, who had a concussion. Both could have starting roles for Wyoming this year. Freshman Anthony Mack was also out with a concussion. Reigning Mountain West sixth man of the year Justin James started but was limited to 13 minutes with an ankle injury. He spent much of the game on an exercise bike. Freshman Hunter Maldonado, who started, left the game late with cramps.
On the other hand, the Mocs are the youngest team in the country. They returned just five letter-winners and no starters, and they were playing under a first-time head coach more than 1,000 miles from their home.
“I thought it was a sense of complacency coming out, feeling like we were the better team,” second-year head coach Allen Edwards said. “I just think our energy wasn’t there from the start, which can be a little surprising, when you’re talking about a veteran group coming out there with the mindset of not letting up but extending the lead and doing that with your defense first.”
The Cowboys had 15 turnovers in the game, one week after turning the ball over 23 times in an exhibition win against Division-II Regis. They were outrebounded by the Mocs, despite the fact that the only player above 6-foot-6 to play for Chattanooga on Friday fouled out.
Dalton was Wyoming’s only player to score in double digits. He nearly notched a double-double before halftime, ending the game with 13 rebounds. Dalton started alongside Nyaires Redding, Alan Herndon, James and Maldonado.
Wyoming’s first-half 3-point shooting was its saving grace, and Dalton was a big part of that. His five first-half 3-pointers came on seven attempts, and tied a career high. The Cowboys shot 60 percent as a team behind the arc in the first half, and just three of their first-half field goals came from inside it.
The Cowboys had trailed 6 minutes into the game after a sluggish start by both teams, but a string of 3-pointers gave Wyoming a lead it wouldn’t lose. Dalton hit three of them, with Kelley fitting one in as well. By the time Chattanooga’s 4:10 drought was over, Wyoming had already built a double-digit lead.
In the second half, Chattanooga brought seven different double-digit leads down to single digits. The Mocs were within seven points with less than a minute to play.
Four first-time Cowboys played for Wyoming: Redding, Buddha Jones, Austin Mueller and Maldonado. Each of them scored but Mueller.
Wyoming (1-0) now hits the road with a game Monday at Oregon State of the Pac-12.