Jeff Linder was dealt a tough early hand in Reno, Nev.
Xavier DuSell was out with a hamstring injury. Kenny Foster didn’t make the trip due to COVID-19 protocols. Noah Reynolds, who was not with the team in Logan, Utah, showed up Sunday night for his first practice in 10 days.
Hunter Maldonado – the straw that serves the drink for the Cowboys – couldn’t buy a basket.
Instead of settling for a respectable split of its two-game road trip to begin Mountain West play, Wyoming refused to fold during a 77-67 victory over Nevada on Monday night at the Lawlor Events Center.
Graham Ike scored 24 points and Drake Jeffries added 20 first-half points to lead the Cowboys (13-2, 2-0), who were coming off a 71-69 win at Utah State following a two-week pause.
“Hell of an effort,” Linder said after UW improved to 5-1 in true road games. “We knew we had our hands full coming in here on a quick turnaround, especially with what they do offensively.”
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The Wolf Pack (8-7, 2-2) shot 55.2% from the field in the first half, but the Pokes held Steve Alford’s talented team to 8-for-32 (25%) shooting in the second half, including 2-for-19 (10.5%) on 3-pointers.
Grant Sherfield, the MW preseason player of the year, finished with 20 points. His teammates were a combined 16-for-44 shooting.
Maldonado was 3-for-14 from the field but still finished with 11 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds.
Ike and Jeffries picked up the slack by coming to make 15-of-29 shot attempts. Brendan Wenzel, starting in place of DuSell, made a key 3 down the stretch and swatted a corner 3 by Desmond Cambridge into the stands.
Reynolds chipped in with seven points off the bench and helped defend Sherfield. Hunter Thompson added 10 points in 18 minutes on a night when starter Jeremiah Oden did not score in 19 minutes.
“It speaks to the depth of our team,” Linder said. “If you watch the film, (Oden) is the first one off the bench cheering his teammates on. He’s not pouting because he’s not playing. He understands that’s what needs to be done in order for us to win the game.
“To have that depth and to have that type of character that we have allows that to happen. There’s no agendas. We’ve just got a tough and together team.”
After Ike went to the bench with his third foul, the Wolf Pack went on a 5-0 run to tie the score 47-47 with 13:08 remaining.
UW was able to slowly regain the lead at the free-throw line and a 3 by Thompson made the score 68-56 with 4:30 remaining.
Wenzel answered a Kenan Blackshear 3 with his own on the other end to keep the lead at 10 (71-61) and thwart Nevada’s last push.
“At halftime I challenged the guys that we can’t walk out of here with the win if we allow these guys to shoot 56 percent again,” Linder said. “For our guys in the second half to force a team like them to shoot 25 percent from the field and then ultimately hold them to under 40 percent for the game, that was the difference in the game.”
The Cowboys led 40-38 at the intermission on the strength of six 3s by Jeffries, who had 20 points at the break on 7-for-10 shooting.
Nevada led 27-21 before Jeffries scored UW’s next 12 points behind the arc to give the visitors a 33-30 lead.
Ike’s old-fashioned three-point play with 41 seconds left gave the Pokes the lead at halftime.
Sherfield did his best to keep pace with Jeffries by scoring 14 points for the Wolf Pack in the first 20 minutes.
“The first half we came out a little slow, a little sluggish,” Linder said. “I didn’t like how we were communicating on the floor. But thankfully Drake Jeffries bailed us out in the first half.”
UW, which had home games against Boise State and San Diego State postponed, is scheduled to host San Jose State on Wednesday and New Mexico on Saturday at the Arena-Auditorium.
Follow UW beat writer Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @By_RyanThorburn