Spotting another team 15 points to begin a game is never ideal. Wyoming, which fell behind 25-0 in its Mountain West tournament loss to Air Force last year, should know that as well as anyone.
But it was Northern Colorado’s final point total that concerned the Cowboys the most.
“Our message to our guys was 91 points,” head coach Allen Edwards said. “It’s going to be tough to beat anybody when giving up 91.”
Indeed it was, and Wyoming dropped its first home game of the season, 91-84 to the Bears, concluding its non-conference schedule at 9-4. Wyoming hadn’t lost a home game to the Bears since January 1937.
The loss ended a 20-game non-conference home winning streak for the Cowboys, dating back to a Dec. 10, 2015 loss to Southern. The Cowboys had also won 13 straight games at the Arena-Auditorium since losing to Colorado State on Valentine’s Day.
“They scored 47 in the first half,” senior Hayden Dalton said. “Way too much. We did fight back and get the lead in the second. We just let up and let their guys do what they do.”
Wyoming led just once in the game, and it lasted all of 23 seconds. Justin James’ layup with 7:21 to play gave Wyoming a 72-71 lead, but the Bears (9-3) responded with a 5-0 run.
James led Wyoming with a season-high 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting.
Northern Colorado created its 15-0 cushion by hitting five consecutive shots, all 3s, after starting the game with two missed attempts inside the arc. Wyoming didn’t get on the board until nearly 3 minutes into the game, when Cody Kelley hit a 3.
The Cowboys used a 16-5 run to tie the game with just under 7 minutes to go before halftime. The Bears then went on a 16-6 run, before Wyoming ended the half with eight straight points.
Andre Spight led Northern Colorado with 24 points, 19 of which came in the second half, and had a game-high 10 assists.
“Just miscommunication and allowing a really good player to do what he does best,” Edwards said of Spight’s second-half success. “We didn’t make it difficult on him.”
Wyoming’s nine attempted 3-pointers were its fewest in the Edwards era. The Pokes last shot fewer than 10 3-pointers Dec. 23, 2014, when they attempted seven in a win at Montana State. Fifty-four of the Cowboys’ points Tuesday came in the paint.
“We didn’t go in thinking we’re not going to shoot many 3s,” James said. “But we know with the way they guarded, we would get lanes to the hole driving, so we continued to be aggressive with that. I’m not really sure why we only put up nine, but we lost the game. That’s all that matters.”
Dalton (13 points), Nyaires Redding (11) and Alan Herndon (10) were also in double figures for Wyoming, which lost for the first time this season when Herndon took 10 or more shots.
The Cowboys had not allowed a team to score 90 points in a game this season.
“It’s not a drill you could do or play you could draw up or anything like that,” Redding said of the team’s defensive struggles. “It’s just a want to defend. You’ve got to take it personal when you’re guarding a guy one-on-one.
“It’s just like offense. When a guy’s guarding you, you’re like, ‘All right. I want to score on him.’ But on defense it’s, ‘All right. He’s not going to score on me.’ It’s a mental thing that we have to get over and a want to get those stops as much as we want to get buckets on the other end.”
Wyoming is off until its conference opener Dec. 27 at home against San Diego State. Some players will go home and the team will resume preparation on Sunday.
“Definitely excited for conference play,” Dalton said. “It’s always good every year, and I think our conference looks really good this year, so we have a little break and a couple days off for Christmas, and then we’ve got to ramp it back up and address some of those things defensively and be ready for conference.”
TUESDAY: Wyoming lost 91-84 to Northern Colorado, the Cowboys’ first loss at home this season.
GUARD DOWN: Wyoming got behind 15-0 early and allowed more points than it had to an opponent all year.
HE SAID IT: “It’s not a drill you could do or play you could draw up or anything like that. It’s just a want to defend. You’ve got to take it personal when you’re guarding a guy one-on-one.” — UW guard Nyaires Redding.
NEXT: San Diego State at Wyoming, 7 p.m., Dec. 27.
Northern Colorado 91, Wyoming 84
Tuesday, at Laramie
NORTHERN COLORADO (91): Tanner Morgan 3-6 0-0 7, Jordan Davis 6-10 0-0 13, Andre Spight 8-18 4-5 24, Jonah Radebaugh 1-4 0-0 3, Jalen Sanders 5-11 2-2 16, Ibrahim Sylla 1-1 0-0 2, Chaz Glotta 1-3 0-0 2, Roberto Vercellino 3-5 4-4 11, Anthony Johnson 4-10 3-6 13. Totals 32-68 13-17 91.
WYOMING (84): Alan Herndon 5-12 0-1 10, Hayden Dalton 5-13 2-2 13, Justin James 11-16 3-4 25, Alexander Aka Gorski 0-1 2-2 2, Cody Kelley 1-4 0-0 3, Nyaires Redding 3-5 4-5 11, Andrew Moemeka 1-1 0-0 2, Hunter Maldonado 3-4 2-2 8, Brodricks Jones 0-1 0-0 0, Lou Adams 3-3 4-5 10. Totals 32-60 17-21 84.
3-point goals: UNC 14-31 (Sanders 4-5, Spight 4-9, Johnson 2-4, Morgan 1-1, Davis 1-3, Vercellino 1-3, Radebaugh 1-4, Glotta 0-2) UW 3-9 (Kelley 1-2, Redding 1-2, Dalton 1-3, Herndon 0-1, Aka Gorski 0-1). Rebounds: UNC 35 (Morgan 7) UW 33 (Herndon 9, James 6, Dalton 5, Adams 4). Assists: UNC 16 (Spight 10) UW 14 (James 3). Steals: UNC 6 UW 8 (Herndon 2, Adams 2). Attendance: 4,289.