LARAMIE, Wyo. -
Senior forward Larry Nance Jr. posted 24 points, including 19 in the second half, to guide the University of Wyoming men's basketball team to a hard-fought 78-75 win over New Mexico State on Saturday in the Arena-Auditorium. The Pokes (6-0) trailed by one with just over four minutes left, but Nance crafted a personal 7-2 run that put the Cowboys in control and allowed UW to hit free throws for their 200th nonconference victory in the building.
"This was a physical confrontation every time down the floor on offense and defense," UW head coach Larry Shyatt said. "I think they are a great team. I really think they play well together. Sometimes statistics are deceiving, but I told our team this time you made 17 of your last 18 free throws. If we make 12 or 13 of those, we don't win. It's not going to go on SportsCenter, but that is important."
The Cowboys owned a 37-33 lead at halftime, but the Aggies, who have played in the last three NCAA tournaments, battled back and swapped the lead with Wyoming eight times in the second half. NMSU hit a layup with 4:21 left to go in front 63-62, but Nance notched UW's next seven points, including a steal and coast-to-coast dunk, to turn momentum back Wyoming's way. The spurt put the Pokes up 71-65 with two minutes remaining, as Nance combined with senior guards Riley Grabau and Charles Hankerson Jr. to hit free throws down the stretch to maintain the advantage.
"We scheduled Colorado and New Mexico State in two of our first six games on purpose because this team has a history of NCAA tournament action," Shyatt said. "Our guys stood tall. I don't think we played one of our best games, but I thought we played as physical as we needed to. When we needed 50-50 balls, the last two minutes of the game, we got all of them."
Nance earned 19 of his 24 points in the second half and posted eight rebounds, three steals, two blocks and an assist. Hankerson and junior guard Josh Adams contributed 15 points apiece, as Hankerson added five rebounds. Hankerson's point total was a career high. Grabau had 10 points and a season-high five assists, as he went a perfect 8-of-8 at the free throw line.
Wyoming topped 50 percent from the field for a sixth-straight game, hitting 51 percent (25-of-49) and 81 percent (25-of-31) at the free throw line. The Aggies connected on 46 percent (28-of-61) from the field and 39 percent (7-of-18) from deep. Both teams pulled down 33 rebounds and scored 40 points in the paint, but the Cowboys committed six less fouls and earned four more assists.
The Cowboys conclude a seven-game home stand to start the season by hosting Denver on Tuesday at 7 p.m. MT in the Arena-Auditorium.