Wyoming got the usual from Justin James, which was a start.
The Cowboys’ all-everything guard once again led Wyoming in scoring with 22 points. He also matched a game-high with eight rebounds and had more assists than anybody with nine.
Trace Young had 15 points — his first game in double figures since scoring 10 at UNLV on Jan. 5. The true freshman went 6 of 13 from the floor with a pair of assists while also committing just two turnovers in 34 minutes.
And Jake Hendricks looked anything like a player coming off a torn knee ligament that kept him off the court for more than a month. The Cowboys’ best 3-point shooter made an emphatic return to the lineup, draining seven of the 12 3s he hoisted for 21 points while playing turnover-free basketball.
It was all part of one of the more complete efforts the shorthanded Cowboys have put together recently, particularly away from the Arena-Auditorium. Wyoming, which had lost its first four road games against Mountain West foes by more than 24 points on average, knocked down a season-high 15 3s. The Cowboys also sank all but two of their free throws (9 of 11), held their own on the glass (33-28 disadvantage) and, while still an area they’re struggling with, cut their turnovers down to 13 from the nearly 17 they’ve been averaging in league play to score more points than they have in nearly two months.
Yet it still wasn’t enough for Wyoming to get out of Clune Arena with its first true road win of the season Wednesday as the Cowboys fell 81-75 to Air Force in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Cowboys trailed by as many as 16 but didn’t wilt like they did at San Diego State, New Mexico or Boise State, putting together a surge of their own to get within three on Hendricks’ final 3 with 39 seconds left.
But Air Force, particularly Lavelle Scottie, was too much.
Wyoming had no answer for the Falcons’ 6-foot-6 wing. Scottie made his first 11 shots to help Air Force build its largest lead with 3:20 left in the first half. He cooled off in the second half only because he couldn’t stay that hot, going 4 of 8 from the field in the final 20 minutes. Once it was over, he had a career-high 34 points.
That included four free throws, one of which pushed Air Force’s lead back to two possessions with 31 ticks left. James misfired on a 3 on Wyoming’s next possession, starting a string of four straight misses from the field for the Cowboys down the stretch on the way to their third straight loss.
Hendricks’ surprise showing helped Wyoming put up its highest point total since scoring 87 in a loss to Denver on Dec. 11. Wyoming coach Allen Edwards said earlier this week he expected to get Hendricks about 10 minutes in his first action since tearing his LCL against UTEP on Dec. 22, but Hendricks nearly tripled that (29) and matched a season-high in 3s.
The Cowboys shot 46.4 percent from the field but didn’t get much from second-leading scorer Hunter Thompson, who had just three points and one rebound before fouling out late. Between Scottie and Ryan Swan (19 points on 7 of 13 shooting), Air Force was even better, shooting 53.3 percent.
Wyoming will try again Saturday when the Cowboys host Colorado State.