LARAMIE — In its first home game in more than two weeks, the Wyoming men’s basketball team once again failed to put together a complete 40 minutes, something head coach Allen Edwards has emphasized in games when the Cowboys establish first-half leads.
But 38 minutes is pretty close.
Wyoming held a 20-point lead over Division-II New Mexico Highlands with 2 minutes to play Sunday before ultimately beating the other Cowboys 83-70.
“I mean, throughout the whole game, we were just focused on trying to play 40 minutes of basketball,” Wyoming junior Justin James said. “The last stretch we didn’t really do that, so we were kind of upset about that, but it was great how the team came out in the beginning of the second half and really just put our foot on their throats and kind of finished the game.”
The Cowboys developed somewhat of a habit last year of building first-half leads and then failing to build on them after the break. The same problem emerged in Wyoming’s season opening win against Chattanooga, the last game the Pokes played at home.
But Sunday, the Cowboys’ 13-point first-half advantage turned into a 25-point second-half chasm over the first 15 minutes out of intermission.
The 16-day span between home games was Wyoming’s longest since 2002-03. Since that game against the Mocs, Wyoming won a road game at Oregon State and won two of three in the Cayman Islands Classic, the one loss coming to No. 12 Cincinnati.
After playing on three consecutive days, and with the team beginning a new stretch of three games in a seven days, Edwards wanted to use his whole roster Saturday, both to give starters some rest and to take another look at players on the bench. Thirteen players played Saturday, all seeing the floor before half, and no player played more than 23 minutes.
“We just had those three back to back, and a lot of them were very physical, tough, hard-fought games,” senior Alan Herndon said. “So it was nice to be able to spread the minutes out and kind of give guys a little rest, and also see the guys off the bench build their confidence in playing.”
Nonetheless, it was the starters that did the majority of the scoring. Hayden Dalton led the team with 16 points, while James, who missed the Cincinnati game with a cut lip, and Herndon scored 15 apiece. New Mexico Highlands (5-2) actually led Wyoming in bench points, 35-28.
The Cowboys made half of their shots from the field and 13 of their 29 3-point attempts (44.8 percent).
“That’s kind of what we do,” James said. “We’re a great shooting team, and whenever we see one go in, that gives us confidence for the next shot. That definitely scares teams, and that’s definitely something we’ll continue to utilize in the future, continue to attack, draw, kick, make 3s. That’s just the way we play.”
Despite the fact that the Cowboys (5-1) went from facing a top-15 team to a Division-II team, they didn’t play like a team that took New Mexico Highlands lightly.
“We were talking before the game, (assistant coach Jermaine) Kimbrough was talking to us, when we lost against Cincinnati, that wasn’t a good feeling,” sophomore Cody Kelley said. “We were all in there wishing we could’ve done different things, played better. So this was a game for us where we were all motivated just to get our groove back and kind of take out our anger on a different team.
“This was a game for us where we could just play Wyoming basketball and get back to our habits. We didn’t even do a lot of scout on these guys just because it was more about Wyoming basketball today. Because I think that’s going to help us going forward.”
Still, Edwards feels the performance fell short of a complete 40 minutes.
“I got on a few guys about the energy,” he said. “I thought when the first unit came out, I thought the energy was great. I thought they built the lead. I thought when we made a few subs or the guys on the bench saw that the game was going in a certain direction, we just thought it was going to be easy.
“But the whole message for our guys getting ready for this game was it wasn’t about our opponents. It was more about us and our habits and us getting better.”
Wyoming plays Wednesday at Denver and Saturday at home against Drake.