Sophomore guard Justin James poured in 18 points off the Cowboy bench to help the Cowboys sprint past South Dakota State, 77-67 on Saturday evening in the Arena-Auditorium. UW head coach Allen Edwards is 3-0 in his young career at Wyoming and is the first coach to start 3-0 in their first season since Larry Shyatt did it in 1997-98.
“I think what I have to keep getting through to our guys is that I’m fine with the offense, but you have to be more locked in at the defensive end of the floor,” Edwards said. “The way we started the second half is more the type of defense we identify with. I think it was the first six of seven possessions that we held them scoreless. We just have to be better at getting stops. I can’t really pinpoint any one person, it was a concerted effort with those opening possessions in the second half. It wasn’t one guy, and I think that’s what we have to lean on as we continue.”
James continued to be effective for the Pokes scoring 18 points after pouring in 19 points at Montana on Monday. He was 7-of-9 from the field and added three assists. Senior Jason McManamen added 16 points for UW for his 30th career game in double-figures. Junior guard Alexander Aka Gorski 15 points including 10 in the first half to round out UW players in double-figures. Redshirt freshman guard Cody Kelley added a career-high five points.
“I think what’s best about our program is our numbers,” Edwards said. “At the end of the day, if its 1-9 or 1-10, I think all the guys are coming in and contributing. Tonight was another solid win that our guys were able to grind out as we get better and our confidence continues to grow.”
Wyoming was stout defensively, as UW held SDSU to 35 percent (20-of-58) from the field. The Pokes shot 44 percent (24-of-54) from the field after going 50 percent from the field in the second half.
The Pokes also took care of the ball with seven turnovers, while the Cowboys forced 14 on the night. The Jackrabbits held the edge on the boards with 44 rebounds to the Pokes’ 32.
After both teams traded blows in the opening minutes of the first half, a 10-0 run by the Pokes gave UW a 16-8 lead. The run was sparked by five points from Aka Gorski. The run started after a technical by Tevin King after a three pointer that led to a pair of free throws by McManamen.
The Jackrabbits battled back to take control during the middle of the frame. SDSU’s Mike Daum was strong for the Jacks, as he scored 16 points in the first half of play hitting 4-of-5 three pointers to help build a lead as high as six for South Dakota State.
The Pokes closed the half out strong taking a 36-35 lead into the break. UW closed the stanza on an 8-3 run that was sparked by a jumper by Aka Gorski that gave the guard 10 points in the opening half. He finished the frame 4-of-6 from the field and added four boards.
The Cowboys got defensive to open the opening minutes of the second half holding SDSU without a point for five minutes of the half building a 42-35 lead. That defensive momentum by the Cowboys kept building as another drought of 2:50 by the Jackrabbits gave UW a 49-42 with 9:14 left in the second frame.
The Cowboys outgunned South Dakota State the remainder of the stanza. The Pokes had a 14-2 advantage in the paint and held SDSU to 23 percent (6-of-26) from the field in the half. The Cowboys bench also poured in 21 points as scored 41 points in the final half to earn the 77-67 win.
Daum led SDSU with 24 points on 7-of-10 from the field. He also grabbed a team-high eight rebounds. Chris Howell added 12 points off the bench for the Jackrabbits.
The Cowboys return to action on Tuesday heading to Pacific for an 8 p.m. MT tip in Stockton, Calif.