LARAMIE — With 7.8 seconds to play Saturday night at the Arena-Auditorium, Texas Southern would've done anything for two points. Three seconds later, Hayden Dalton got a chance at six free ones.
After Cody Kelley drew a charge to prevent Texas Southern from getting off a potentially game-winning shot, 40 minutes of frustration boiled over for the winless Tigers. Two Texas Southern players were ejected and three were technicals were called, allowing Dalton to ice the 72-66 win at the free-throw line.
"It was a hard-fought game, and our team was the one who stayed disciplined," junior Justin James said. "And that was the key going into the game. That's one thing that (the coaches) were saying. We're going to take their best shot, but in the times that we need it the most, are we going to stay disciplined? And that's what we did.
"We got stops when we needed to. We made the free throws that we needed to make to win the game and we came out with the win."
The Cowboys had taken the ultimate lead on two Lou Adams free throws, and James blocked a go-ahead 3-point attempt from Demontrae Jefferson, who scored a game-high 27 points.
While the Tigers' losing streak extended to 12 games, the Cowboys (9-3) extended their non-conference home winning streak to 20. The Cowboys have also won 13 consecutive home games.
Though without a win, Texas Southern (0-11) entered the game with the nation's hardest strength of schedule, and all of its games this season have come on the road. The Wyoming coaching staff emphasized before the game that the Tigers were better than their record.
"Like I told them, I said, 'I just remember, man, being a player, and I know what you guys are thinking sometimes,'" Wyoming head coach Allen Edwards said. "'Everybody we play is the best team in the world,' because (our staff makes) it feel like the best team in the world. And I said, 'It's not that we're trying to sell you guys a bill of goods. We're just trying to help you guys to understand the edge that we're going to need to win basketball games.'"
The first half left some doubt as to whether that lesson hit home. The Cowboys shot 29 percent from the field, hitting just four shots inside the stripe in addition to a 5-for-19 3-point shooting effort (26.3 percent). They had 10 first-half turnovers, though Texas Southern had seven.
The teams traded seven first-half leads, but Texas Southern held the edge for 2 minutes longer before intermission. Despite missing seven free throws, the Tigers took a five-point lead into the halftime. Texas Southern scored the final nine points of the period.
"I think the first half was where we let our guard down a little bit with that," Kelley said. "We didn't, like, overlook them or anything. I think they were just kind of outplaying us, because they play with a chip on their shoulder, too. They're coming into everybody's place looking to get a win. They were playing like they had nothing to lose. We can't just play down to that level."
The second half started on a rough note, as Dalton, Wyoming's leading scorer, picked up his fourth foul of the game 14 seconds in. But the Cowboys erased an eight-point Texas Southern lead with an 8-0 run, and pushed ahead by as many as five.
The Tigers wouldn't go away, though, and a 7-0 run gave them the lead with 3:13 to play. James, Jefferson and Wyoming senior Alan Herndon took turns making jumpers before a Trayvon Reed free throw put Texas Southern ahead for the final time of the night. Adams hit his free throws on the other end, and James blocked Jefferson's shot with less than 19 seconds remaining.
James then sunk a pair of free throws to extend the lead to 3, and Adams sent Derrick Bruce to the line. He made his first, missed his second, and Dalton pulled down the rebound. He stepped out of bounds, though, to give the Tigers one last shot.
That's when Kelley drew his game-winning charge.
"I was sitting on the bench kind of thinking if I got switched out on a taller guard like that I'd have to do something to take a charge on him," the sophomore said. "And on that last play, there was a screen in on H.D.'s man. H.D. was guarding him, and I just switched out on Hayden's guy and I was playing him up tight, because I didn't want to give up a 3 or nothing like that. He's a good shooter, good player.
"He lowered his shoulder, and that's just been kind of a thing of mine. If someone lowers a shoulder, I mean, I'm taking it in the chest. So it was an easy play for me. It just happened to be at the end of the game."
The Texas Southern staff had vocally disagreed with the officials all game, and head coach Mike Davis had already been given a warning. After the charge was called on Donte' Clark, Jefferson received two technicals, Clark received one, and both players were ejected. Dalton hit four of his six free-throw attempts to secure the final score.
"I know Coach Davis, and I understand," Edwards said. "I think that's a tough moment to be in, especially when the call is against you. It's a little tough.
"... I understand the emotion. A lot of people will probably look at it and make their own comments about it, but if you're not in the moment, you don't understand that. That's winning and losing right there within that moment, so emotions probably got the best of some of the kids but also Coach."
James finished the game with a 21 points and 12 rebounds, his fourth double-double in five games. Herndon had 10 points, the only other Poke in double figures.
Jefferson hit 5-of-9 3-pointers en route to his 27 points.
"He's the best 5-7 guard I've ever played with," James said. "He's quick, he can shoot it, he can defend a little bit. He's a good player."
The teams combined for 27 offensive rebounds in the game, and Kelley, a point guard, had three to tie for a team high. Wyoming turned the ball over 18 times, tied for a season worst, which led to 22 Texas Southern points off turnovers.
"I think up to this point we've done a great job in that category, as far as turnovers," Edwards said. "Because that was truly a big problem of ours last year. But coming into this game, we were positive. And I think we still are."
The win came in Edwards' 50th game as Wyoming's head coach and on his 42nd birthday.
The Cowboys host Northern Colorado on Tuesday to close out their non-conference schedule.