(UW Athletics release)
LARAMIE, Wyo. – The Pokes nearly erased an eight point halftime deficit in a 72-67 loss to Niagara on Friday evening in the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie. Wyoming shot 50 percent in the second half, but clutch shooting and free throws by Niagara were too much for the Cowboys to overcome. UW falls to 1-3 overall, as the Purple Eagles move to 2-1 overall.
“What I said to the team at halftime and after the game was we were hurt by the way we started the game,” UW head coach Allen Edwards said. “I thought we did a better job in the second half and the stats indicate that. We shot 30 percent in the first half and 50 percent in the second half and that was due in part to the fact that we moved the ball better in the second half which gave us opportunities to get layups at the basket or open jump shots.”
Senior Justin James led the Pokes for the fourth time this season with 23 points. He scored 17 in the second half, as he also added eight rebounds. James was 7-of-8 from the free throw line and has made 24-of-last-25 dating back to Oregon State. Sophomore Hunter Maldonado added his second-straight double-double with 13 points and a career-high 15 rebounds. Junior Jake Hendricks tied a career-high with 15 points on a career-best six field goals.
“When you think about a guy like him (Hunter Maldonado) being undersized and having to play the center spot some when we gave Austin Mueller a breather it’s pretty remarkable that he gets 15 rebounds, but he’s a durable kid,” Edwards said. “He didn’t shoot the three-ball well tonight, but other than maybe one of them I thought they were all good looks.”
Wyoming outshot the Purple Eagles on the night, as Wyoming shot 40 percent with the NU going for 38 percent. Wyoming also held the advantage on the boards at 42-39. The Purple Eagles did their damage from behind the three-point line with 10 on the night. Wyoming recorded a season-high 15 turnovers, as they were turned into 15 points by Niagara.
The Cowboy offense started the contest slow, as Niagara raced out to a 9-4 lead. The Pokes opened the contest 2-of-7 from the field in the opening five minutes of play. The Purple Eagles held on to the momentum building a lead as high as nine points. The Pokes would cut the deficit to three points at 16-13 nearly halfway through the half.
The Pokes would tie the game at 16-16 with 9:47 left in the first half on a Hendricks three pointer. It was a part of a 9-0 run that saw the Cowboys hold Niagara to 1-of-9 from the field. The Pokes would take a brief lead at 19-8, but a 9-0 run by NU gave them a 27-19 advantage with 4:34 left in the half.
The Purple Eagles rode that momentum into halftime taking a 33-25 lead into the break. Wyoming struggled offensively shooting 30 percent going 9-of-30 from the field. The Purple Eagles held an advantage on the glass by a tally of 24-18.
The Pokes opened the second half with layups from Maldonado and Nyaires Redding to make it a 33-29 game a minute into the half. The Pokes tied the game at 36-36, but Marvin Prochet hit his fifth three of the game to make it 39-33 in favor of NU with 15:32 left in the contest.
The Pokes took their first lead of the game at the 11:54 mark of the second half on a James three pointer to make it a 46-45 contest. The UW lead lasted only seconds as Niagara responded with a three-pointer to take the lead back.
Niagara would later build the lead to eight at 57-59 on a Dominic Robb three-pointer with just under nine minutes left in the contest. The Pokes would make three-straight field goals to tie the game at 59-59 with 4:18 left in the second half.
Niagara’s Chris Barton would hit a three pointer to make it a 62-59 game shortly after the Pokes tied the game to make it 64-61 NU with 2:45 left. Wyoming would cut the Niagara lead to one point twice late, but the Purple Eagles hit six free throws late to take the contest, 72-67.
“In the second half, I thought we fought, got back in the game and took the lead at one point, but we couldn’t get key stops down the stretch when we needed them,” Edwards said.
Prochet led the Purple Eagles with a double-double with 23 points and 12 rebounds. He hit five three pointers in the game. Robb added 13 points along with 12 points each from Barton and Reheem Solomon.
The Cowboys heads to the Sunshine State for the Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans Fort Myers Tip-off. Wyoming opens the two-game tournament on Monday at 7 p.m. against Boston College with the game being televised on FS1.