Sophomore guard Justin Jamesscored 26 points and dished out a career-high seven assists to lift the Pokes (15-9, 5-6 MW) past Air Force 83-74 on Saturday afternoon in Clune Arena in Colorado Springs, Colo. Junior guard Jeremy Liebermanadded a career-high 14 points including a career-high four three pointers.
“I thought we got back to being us and my thing is if we move on offense and move bodies shots will present themselves,” UW head coach Allen Edwardssaid. “We were assertive, aggressive and found each other for open looks and our ball movement and player movement helped us find the open guy.”
James hit a career-high 10 free throws including eight in the final two minutes and went 7-of-12 from the field. He has 20 points in back-to-back games. Lieberman was 5-of-8 from the field and also tied a season-high with five rebounds. Junior forward Alan Herndon added 16 points in his return to his hometown. He had four blocks and has 52 on the season ranking 10th in single season history at Wyoming. Junior forward Hayden Dalton led the Pokes with 11 rebounds on the night. Senior guard Jason McManamen added two triples and now has 175 in his career ranking third all-time at UW.
“Justin (James) is a special talent and we like what he brings to this team, we just want to see him continue to improve,” Edwards said. “Jeremy (Lieberman) was great tonight and that shows the confidence the staff has with him, as he has hit some big shots as of late.”
The Cowboys shot 50 percent from the field and the 83 points was UW’s highest point total on the road this season. Wyoming hit 13 three pointers, the most in a road game this season. The Pokes also finished the game with 21 assists, tying the second most this season, which also came against the Falcons. UW tied a season-high with nine blocks on the night.
“I though getting off to a fast start was a key,” Edwards said. “We brought great energy on the defensive end of the floor and that led to the offense.”
Air Force was held to 36 percent from the field, as it marked the 10th time UW has held an opponent under 40 percent from the field. UW also grabbed 39 boards on the night and shot 75 percent from the free throw line.
The Cowboys raced out to an early 15-5 lead four minutes into the contest thanks to eight points from Lieberman. The Pokes opened the contest 6-of-7 from the field and 3-of-4 from behind the arc. The Cowboys added to the lead making 20-10 thanks to five-straight points from Dalton.
After the Falcons cut the deficit to five points at 22-17, the Pokes used a 5-0 run to make it 27-17 on a triple from Herndon. He would add seven-straight points for UW to help them build a 37-22 lead with under eight minutes remaining in the opening half.
The Falcons held the Pokes scoreless for over five minutes and used a 13-0 to mark it 42-36 in favor of UW with a little over a minute remaining in the first half. The Cowboys closed out the half on a 5-0 run to take a 47-36 lead into halftime thanks to a three-pointer from Morris Marshallat the buzzer. It was the second straight halftime buzzer beater for the Cowboys after James hit one at San Diego State.
The Pokes shot 62 percent from the field in the opening frame, the highest in the first half this season. UW’s 47 points in the first half was the most UW has scored in a half at Clune Arena since joining the MW.
UW opened the second half on a 13-2 run to make it a 60-38 game. McManamen added two triples with James adding one to help UW build its largest lead of 22 points. Air Force added a 13-0 run to make it 60-51 with 10:37 remaining in the game.
Air Force cut the lead to six points at 61-55 on a dunk by Dane Norman a minute later. But jumpers by James and Dalton built the lead back to 10 points with under eight minutes. The Falcons kept fighting, but could not come closer than eight points, but a triple by Lieberman off a nice dish from McManamen helped UW build at 12 point advantage at 72-60 with 3:15 remaining.
Lieberman added another triple tying his career-high in scoring and gave UW a 75-62 lead with under three minutes remaining. The Pokes would hit free throws down the stretch and earned the 83-74 win.
Forward Frank Toohey recorded 23 points to lead the Falcons. Pervis Louder added 13 points as the only other Air Force player in double-figures. Air Force scored 17 points on both Wyoming turnovers and second chance points.
Wyoming returns to action on Wednesday hosting Fresno State for a 7 p.m. start in the Arena-Auditorium.