LARAMIE — Things aren’t going to get any easier for Wyoming’s basketball team this week.
In fact, the competition level is about to increase for the Cowboys, who’ve won just one of their first four games despite playing just one Power Five opponent. That will change tonight when Wyoming faces ACC member Boston College to open the Fort Myers Tip-Off in Florida.
The Cowboys will then match up with either Richmond or Loyola-Chicago, last season’s Final Four Cinderella, on Wednesday in their tournament finale.
Wyoming (1-3) will still be at a size disadvantage without Hunter Thompson. The 6-foot-11 forward has reached baseline in concussion protocol, Wyoming coach Allen Edwards said, but didn’t travel with the team as to avoid the possibility of symptoms resurfacing on a cross-country flight.
Wyoming, which will also be without Jordan Naughton for at least the first month of the season, will get the Pine Bluffs native back for its Nov. 28 game at Evansville.
“It’s an opportunity to go against really good competition, and I think at the end of the day, it still builds with this team,” Edwards said. “Like I tell our guys, we’re undermanned here a little bit, but we don’t make excuses. We still need to come out and compete at a high level.”
Wyoming’s smaller lineup was overwhelmed in its only game against a Power Five foe to this point — an 83-64 loss at Oregon State — but the Cowboys had their chances against UC Santa Barbara and Niagara. Wyoming cut UCSB’s lead to single digits late in its season opener before the Gauchos regained control late while the Cowboys had a look at a tying 3-pointer in the final seconds of a 72-67 loss to Niagara its last time out Friday.
But the Cowboys were forced to play catch-up for a majority of both games after stumbling at the beginning. Wyoming was particularly slow in its start against Niagara with stagnant ball movement against the Purple Eagles’ man defense, shooting a season-low 30 percent from the field in the first half. The Cowboys’ 25 first-half points were their fewest in a half all season.
Wyoming also continued to give away possessions with some loose ball handling. The Cowboys, who are averaging 12 turnovers per game, committed a season-high 15 against Niagara, spoiling a second straight game in which they overcame their frontcourt deficit to win the rebounding margin.
“Come out and play with an edge,” senior guard Justin James said. “Defend, defend, defend and rebound the ball. We’ve been doing an OK job taking care of the ball. We had a sloppy one (Friday), but we’ll continue to harp on staying more conditioned. Continuing to rebound and continuing to defend is the most important thing.”
The defense is also a work in progress with Wyoming having to play more zone than usual to try to offset its lack of size. Opponents are shooting 36 percent from 3-point range and 46.4 percent from the field.
Wyoming held Niagara to 38 percent from the floor but couldn’t get the timely stop after cutting the Purple Eagles’ lead to one in the final 2 minutes. Niagara made its final two shots and four straight free throws to thwart the Cowboys’ comeback attempt.
“I think at the end of the day, you approach it with the mindset of just getting better,” Edwards said. “(Friday) I thought we fought back in that second half and made it a game, but there were times where we just needed key stops.”
It’ll be a challenge against a Boston College team that’s shooting 46 percent from the field through its first three games. The Eagles (2-1), who are coming off a 76-69 loss to IUPUI, are led by the backcourt trio of Ky Bowman (19.7 points per game), Wynston Tabbs (15.3) and Jordan Chatman (15).
“I think this tournament will be good for our development, our growth and possibly having an opportunity to get some of the newer guys out there a little bit more as well,” Edwards said.