LARAMIE, Wyo. -
Senior forward Larry Nance Jr.'s 29 points paced four Cowboys in double figures and the University of Wyoming men's basketball team celebrated New Year's Eve with a 76-71 Mountain West win over UNLV on Wednesday night in the Arena-Auditorium. The Pokes (12-2, 1-0) captured their first victory in a MW opener since 2006-07 by hitting nine of their last 11 free throws to hold a lead and down the Rebels (9-4, 0-1), who were receiving votes in the AP poll.
"It was an odd game for us," UW head coach Larry Shyatt said. "We've been an easy team to read. The formula has been -- we're not very pretty, nobody is usually too happy on offense when they play us, and it is usually a low-scoring game when we play. But that is not what we had tonight."
The Cowboys trailed 37-33 at halftime, but opened the second half with a 12-2 run to take a lead they would hold until four minutes remained in the game. UNLV pulled in front by one on a layup, but free throws from Nance and senior guard Riley Grabau pushed the Pokes back in front and junior guard Josh Adams hit a three to make it 69-64 Wyoming with 1:44 left. The Rebels would cut it to a one-possession game three more times, but free throws from Grabau and Adams and a layup from senior guard Charles Hankerson Jr. helped UW win their 12-straight game in the Dome of Doom.
"[UNLV] came out on fire," Shyatt said. "We were a little late, too say it nicely, on [Christian] Wood early. We wanted to keep him away from the basket, but the plan wasn't for him to make the first 19 points of the game. We made it thru that. We survived and came back to tie the game, and then in the second half our guys really had some great energy. It was [Josh] Adams. It was [Riley] Grabau. It was [Larry] Nance early in the half giving us a lead. I think that gave us the energy to get this win."
Nance went 11-of-17 from the field, 1-of-1 from deep and 6-of-8 from the charity stripe, as he finished just one point shy of back-to-back games with 30 points. He added five rebounds, three blocks, two steals and an assist. Nance's 11 field goals were a season high, as he notched his fifth 20-point contest this season and 12th of his career. Grabau contributed 12 points, including a clutch 6-of-6 showing at the free throw line, while Adams had 10 points, five assists and two steals. Senior forward Derek Cooke Jr. posted 14 points, his fourth-straight game with double figures.
Wyoming shot 54 percent (28-of-52) from the field for its 10th contest this season hitting more than 50 percent and added 31 percent (5-of-16) beyond the arc and 79 percent (15-of-19) in free throws. UW's 28 field goals tied a season high. UNLV shot equally as well, hitting 55 percent (27-of-49) from the field and 47 percent (10-of-21) from deep, but committed 13 turnovers to just seven for UW. The Pokes converted that into a season-high 23 points off turnovers. The Rebels earned a 27-26 advantage in rebounds, but were outscored 38-28 in the paint. UW led 17-10 in assists, its ninth game this season with more than 15.
The Cowboys open 2015 at San Jose State on Saturday at 8 p.m. MT.