LARAMIE — Wyoming initially had trouble hitting shots. The Cowboys then couldn’t keep Northern Colorado from knocking them down.
The result was another loss to begin Wyoming’s longest homestand of the season.
The Cowboys put together a frantic rally to give themselves a chance but couldn’t overcome UNC’s torrid shooting down the stretch in an 85-80 loss Saturday at the Arena-Auditorium. Wyoming cut a 10-point deficit in the final 2 minutes to one possession with an 8-0 spurt capped by Justin James’ 3-pointer with 16 seconds left, but the Bears sank their final four free throws to send Wyoming to its fourth loss in five games.
“We’ve got to stop with the self-inflicted wounds and have a little bit more urgency for the full 40 minutes,” Wyoming coach Allen Edwards said.
James led all scorers with 25 points for his fourth straight game of at least 25 points and added eight rebounds and five assists. Hunter Maldonado returned from the back spasms that kept him out of Wednesday’s game against Evansville to score 20 points off the bench while Hunter Thompson reached double figures for the second straight game with 15.
But the scoring was sporadic for the Cowboys (2-6), who shot 53 percent from the field in the second half to finish at 44 percent for the game after going multiple extended stretches without a basket. The last covered 5:13 as UNC (5-1) used a 14-2 run to match its largest lead at 48-38 with 12:14 left.
The Cowboys answered with a 14-4 spurt to draw even on a pair of free throws from Jake Hendricks, but Bodie Hume responded with back-to-back 3s for UNC as the Bears knocked down four 3s in a span of five possessions for a 64-56 lead with 6:03 left. Hume, who paced UNC with 23 points, combined with Trent Harris to go 6 of 9 from deep in the second half after the Bears started 1 of 10 from beyond the arc.
“In the first half, we got into a lead and then boom, we have certain lapses to where we forget to close out on this guy and it’s a 3,” senior guard Ny Redding said. “Then we have a turnover, and it’s another 3. We have to do a better job as a team of focusing for 40 straight minutes, and I think it’ll end in a better outcome in the end.”
Harris finished with 13 points while Jordan Davis had 21 for UNC, which shot 44 percent from the floor. James’ dunk in transition to make it a 73-68 game with 2:48 left was answered with Harris’ third and final 3 as the Bears shot 53 percent (7 of 13) from 3-point range in the second half after coming in shooting it at a 43-percent clip from deep.
“I thought the 3-point line became a factor in the second half,” Edwards said. “We had some really good possessions where we got three stops in a row to give ourselves an opportunity, and then I thought we relaxed a few times and gave up three or four 3s in a row. That hurt us at the end of the day.”
Maldonado checked in for the first time with 13:20 left in the first half and scored back-to-back baskets, but the rest of the Cowboys struggled to get it going offensively. Still, Wyoming’s defense helped the Cowboys build a 23-15 lead, but Wyoming missed nine straight shots during the next 6 minutes and change to trail 31-28 at the break after shooting just 33 percent in the first 20 minutes.
“I get more concerned about stopping the other team defensively than I do about offense,” Edwards said. “We’re going to score enough points to win basketball games. What we have to do is stop guys from scoring points, and I thought we did a really good job in the first half. At a point, I thought we got complacent when we’re up 23-15. Then I thought we kind of relaxed and let emotion come into play.”
Hendricks, the Cowboys’ third-leading scorer at 12.3 points per game, had just two points in 25 minutes after sustaining a freak injury in which he ran into a teammate during warmups. Hendricks is a combined 0-for-9 from 3-point range with six points the last two games.
Forward Lwal Dung is “a little homesick” and not currently with the team, Edwards said. Dung, a native of Australia, has played in four games and is averaging 1.8 points and 1.3 rebounds.
“I gave him through the weekend to figure out what he wants to do,” Edwards said. “In any case, we’ll support whatever he wants.”