LARAMIE — It’s been a season full of frustration, disappointment and even a feeling of helplessness at times for Wyoming coach Allen Edwards and his players.
They all got to show visibly different emotions Saturday.
A quick 5-0 run after Colorado State opened the second half with its first 3-pointer put Wyoming up by 17 in the teams’ first Border War matchup of the season, forcing CSU coach Nico Medved to call a timeout to try to quell the momentum the Cowboys were building in front of 5,055 fans at the Arena-Auditorium. As his players jogged toward the bench, Edwards had chest bumps waiting for a couple of them — Justin James first and then Trace Young.
“How many players get to jump up and chest bump with their coach, especially for him to still be able to get up and do that?” Young said with a laugh. “No offense to Coach, but it was fun.”
It was a moment of jubilation that’s been hard to come by this season for the Cowboys, who led wire to wire against their biggest rival for just their second conference win. Wyoming’s 74-66 win — its first over CSU at home since Jan. 30, 2016 — was just its second victory in its last 10 games and snapped a three-game losing streak.
Wyoming will again try for its first winning streak Wednesday in a rematch with Utah State, which notched a 16-point win over the Cowboys at the Arena-Auditorium on Jan. 12.
“Two or three games ago, my pregame message was about that, showing more energy,” Edwards said. “I told them that any time you want to run at me and chest bump me, I’m going to do it. I guess today was actually the first time they decided to do it. And I think I got up pretty high.
“It’s not trying to show up anything. It’s about just trying to get your guys to enjoy what they’re doing. I’ve done it in the past, but with this group, you just try to find ways to keep them engaged.”
James led all scorers with a career-high 36 points and now has 1,831 for his career, moving him past Josh Adams for No. 5 on the program’s all-time scoring list. The Cowboys’ senior guard, who also had a career-high five 3s, added six rebounds and seven assists.
James led a second straight onslaught from deep as the Cowboys sank 13 3s, shooting 54.2 percent from beyond the arc and 48 percent for the game. Hunter Thompson and Trace Young, who finished with 13 points, each had three 3s while Jake Hendricks added a pair of treys in his first start since returning from his knee injury two games ago.
“I thought Justin James was special tonight,” Edwards said. “I thought he played like a true NBA player.”
Wyoming’s hot shooting helped negate the advantage CSU had on the interior with national rebounding leader Nico Carvacho, who notched a 15-point, 17-rebound double-double. J.D. Paige led the Rams with 22 points, but Wyoming didn’t let anybody else get going in holding CSU to 42 percent shooting from the field and a 33.3-percent clip from 3.
CSU didn’t go away quietly, cutting what was a 19-point lead at one point for Wyoming to single digits three times in the second half. But the Cowboys answered each time.
Young ended a quick 8-0 CSU spurt with a 3 to push Wyoming’s lead back to double digits with 12 minutes, 41 seconds left. Anthony Masinton-Bonner sank a 3 to get CSU within seven at 48-41 a minute later, but Thompson splashed a 3 on the Cowboys’ next possession. James then followed Carvacho’s putback on his 14th rebound with another 3 to push the Cowboys’ advantage back to double digits and spark a deciding 8-0 run with 9:08 left.
“It wasn’t just, ‘OK, let’s stand and watch JJ,’” Edwards said. “Everybody was ready to help in that scenario, so there was no panic. Obviously he wasn’t a guy that panicked, and I thought that panned out with the rest of the guys.
After knocking down a season-high 15 3s three days earlier against Air Force, the Cowboys sank their first seven shots from beyond the arc Saturday. Wyoming started the game on a 21-6 run and led 37-18 with 4:02 left in the half
James, who came in shooting just 26.7 percent from 3-point range, had four of his 3s in the first half on his way to 14 points at the break. Carvacho pulled down seven boards in the first 20 minutes, but the Cowboys limited him to just four points on three shots attempts on their way to a 37-20 halftime lead.
“You guys know my confidence when I step out on the floor,” said James, who went 10 of 14 from the field and 11 of 12 from the free-throw line. “I had a good few days of preparation getting in some extra shots. They were falling tonight, and I was taking advantage of it.”