(UW Athletics release)
LARAMIE, Wyo. – The trio of senior Justin James, sophomore Hunter Maldonado and freshman Trevon “TJ” Taylor combined for 65 of the Cowboys (1-2 overall) points in a 86-78 win over Grambling State (1-1 overall) on Wednesday evening in the Arena-Auditorium. It was the first time since Feb. 20, 2018 that three Cowboys scored 20 or more points in a game.
“I thought in the first half we did a great job of executing the game plan,” Wyoming head coach Allen Edwards said. “They (Grambling) made a few threes, but our focus was more so in keeping them out of the paint and stopping them from driving. In the second half, we had good moments — obviously when we got up 16. I talked to the guys at halftime about this being an opportunity to play with maturity, do not play to the score. Understanding game management better at the end of the day is something we need to continue to work on. The clock was our friend at that point. We wanted to be able to move the ball and then shoot under 10 seconds on the shot clock.”
Taylor became the first freshman to score over 20 points in a game since Desmar Jackson scored 31 points at Utah in 2010. He finished with 21 points and was 6-of-9 from the field on the night and also added seven rebounds. He finished 3-of-4 from behind the arc.
“I though T.J. did a good job tonight,” Edwards said. “He played very poised, and that is one of the words we’ve used with him. T.J. plays with a very good pace that fits in well with our veterans. I thought he had a really good night. Everybody will probably look at his points first (21 points), but I also thought he did a good job rebounding the basketball and I thought he did a good job of defending, as well. He had a complete game.”
Maldonado added 21 points as well with 15 coming in the second half. He also added a career-high 12 rebounds for his first career double-double. James added a game-high 23 points. He was a perfect 13-of-13 from the free throw line. He also added seven rebounds and three assists.
“Rebounding is one of the things we harped on before the game,” Edwards said. “In our pregame talk, I mentioned to the guys that Maldo and J.J. are able to get double-digit rebounds on multiple occasions and it doesn’t always come down to size. It sometimes comes down to your will and your want to. You look at Maldo tonight with 12 (rebounds), J.J. with seven and T.J. had seven. Rebounding is more of a team effort than an individual effort.”
Junior Jake Hendricks added 13 points and three rebounds. He hit three triples on the night. Sophomore Austin Mueller added a career-high four steals defensively.
Wyoming shot 42 percent from the field and 38 percent from the three-point line. The Cowboys were impressive from the free throw line shooting 84 percent going 27-of-32. The Pokes held a 42-33 advantage on the glass, as it mark the first time this season Wyoming has done so.
Grambling shot 49 percent from the field on the night and went 8-of-16 from behind the three-point line for 50 percent. The Tigers recorded 15 turnovers for the game, which Wyoming scored 25 points off those miscues.
After Grambling State opened the scoring with a three-pointer, Hendricks responded with five-straight points to give Wyoming a 5-3 lead three minutes into the contest. Wyoming struggled from the field after that going 2-of-10 from the field, as Grambling State jumped to an 11-9 advantage.
Taylor added six-straight points for the Pokes, as UW took a 17-14 advantage with under 12 minutes left in the opening half. It marked the first points of his career in the Brown and Gold. Wyoming would then add to that lead, as Wyoming continued to attack with a streak of five-straight baskets for a 24-16 lead. A dunk from Mueller, a fade away from Maldonado and a triple from Taylor highlighted the run.
The Pokes extended the lead to 10 points at 31-21 with 7:58 left in the half after a 5-0 run. Defense sparked the offense, as back-to-back steals led to a layup from Taylor and a triple from Hendricks. Grambling battled back with a 6-0 run a minute later for a 31-27 contest.
James would later add back-to-back three pointers, his first two of the season to push the lead back to double digits at 41-31 with four minutes left in the period. The Tigers cut the lead to under 10 late, but Taylor added free throws for a 52-42 lead at the break.
Wyoming was outshot in the first frame, as the Tigers were 14-of-26 for 54 percent and the Pokes shot 50 percent on 15-of-30 shooting. The 52 points in the first half was the most since Wyoming scored 53 against New Mexico on Feb. 20, 2018.
Wyoming would build its largest lead to that point in the game at 15 points for a 63-48 lead with 15 minutes left in the game. Maldonado was solid to open the frame with seven of the Pokes 11 points in the half.
The Tigers would go on an 8-0 run with under eight minutes remaining in the game to make it a 74-68 contest. The run was halted by an and-one play by James to make it a nine point game with 6:26 left.
Grambling would not go away cutting the deficit to as little as six points with a minute to play, but James was solid from the line icing the game and giving the Pokes a 86-78 win.
The Tigers were led by Dallas Polk-Hillard, as he had 14 points on the night. Axel Mpoyo added 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
The Cowboys are back in action on Friday hosting Niagara in the Arena-Auditorium for a 7 p.m. start.