LARAMIE -- The usual wasn’t enough for Wyoming on Friday.
Justin James led the Cowboys in scoring for the third straight game, Hunter Maldonado recorded his second straight double-double, and Jake Hendricks had his best game in a Wyoming uniform. But most of it came too late as Niagara kept the Cowboys from starting their first winning streak of the season with a 72-67 win at the Arena-Auditorium.
“I thought we dug ourselves a hole in the first half,” Wyoming coach Allen Edwards said. “Didn’t think we came out with the right effort and energy, and I thought we played a little bit too much one-on-one basketball rather than getting it moving.”
Wyoming (1-3) shot 50 percent from the floor in the final 20 minutes -- nearly double its first-half clip -- to give itself a chance. James’ floater with less than 30 seconds left got the Cowboys within one while Maldonado got loose in the corner for an open look at a tying 3-pointer with 6 ticks remaining, but the shot drew front rim.
“I got open, and JJ hit me with the pass. It was a perfect pass,” Maldonado said. “I felt good about it. That’s why I shot it. Just didn’t fall.”
Niagara (2-1) made its last six free throws to ice it. The Cowboys didn’t help themselves with a season-high 15 turnovers -- a number Edwards and his players said largely had to do with some careless ball handling.
“I feel like a lot of the turnovers were on us,” Hendricks said. “We had a couple of unforced ones that were mostly on us. I didn’t think they really had that much pressure on us. We didn’t take care of the ball very well.”
Maldonado finished with 13 points and pulled down a career-high 15 rebounds to help Wyoming win the rebounding margin (42-39) for the second straight game. James had 17 of his 23 points in the second half, finishing 7 of 15 from the field and 7 of 8 from the free-throw line for his third straight 20-point game.
Hendricks went 6 of 12 from the field with three 3-pointers to finish with a career-high 15 points. But nobody else had more than six points for the Cowboys, who had their worst shooting performance of any half all season in the first 20 minutes.
Niagara shot 30 3s and made 10 with Marvin Prochet accounting for half of them. The 6-foot-7 wing led the Purple Eagles with 23 points while grabbing 12 rebounds. Dominic Robb, Chris Barton and Raheem Solomon added 13, 12 and 12 points, respectively, for Niagara, which shot just 38 percent from the floor.
But Wyoming struggled early against Niagara’s man defense after dealing with Grambling’s zone Wednesday night. The Cowboys’ ball movement wasn’t nearly as crisp, and they didn’t get many shots to fall when they actually held on to it.
With a scoreless stretch of nearly 5 minutes combined with going the last 2 minutes, 42 seconds of the first half without a basket, Wyoming went almost 8 minutes of the half without a point.
The Cowboys shot just 30 percent (9 of 30) in the first half and trailed by as many as nine on the way to a 33-25 deficit at the break despite Niagara missing on 13 of its first 17 3s.
“It started with the way we started the game,” James said. “There would have been no bridge to get over if we started how we should’ve started. For us to come out like that and come out with that lack of edge and lack of intensity, that’s just not the way we should come out.”
The Purple Eagles forced nine of Wyoming’s turnovers in the first 20 minutes in holding the Cowboys to their lowest first-half point total of the season. Wyoming had nearly half as many assists (8) as turnovers.
“When you come in and you have more turnovers than assists -- granted, we didn’t shoot the ball well from 3 tonight as well -- but it fed more into individual play and trying to make something happen versus allowing something to happen with movement," Edwards said. "We just tried to do things that were uncharacteristic.”