EVANSVILLE, Ind. – Senior Justin James sparked a rally in the second half with a career-high 34 points, while grabbing a career-high 20 rebounds, but Wyoming (2-5 overall) fell just short in a 86-78 loss at Evansville (3-3 Overall) in the Ford Center in Evansville, Ind. James is only the second player in the nation with over 30 points and 20 rebounds in a game this season.
“What I shared with the team regardless of the situation you have to play a perfect game to win on the road,” head coach Allen Edwards said. “We didn’t shoot the ball well in the first half. We defended better in the first half. It was a tale of two halves.”
James grabbed his 10th career double-double and his third this season. He recorded his previous career-high of 33 points twice last season with the last coming against San Jose State. James recorded a Mountain West high this season with his 20 rebounds. It was the most by a Cowboy since Hayden Dalton recorded 20 against Fresno State in 2017.
Redshirt freshman Hunter Thompson returned to the lineup for the Pokes, but Wyoming was without the services of second leading scorer sophomore Hunter Maldonado. Thompson added a career-high 15 points.
Wyoming shot 44 percent from the field going 26-of-59 from the field, despite shooting 1-of-12 from the field to open the game. Evansville also shot 44 percent from the field, but hit eight threes to the Pokes four on the night.
The Pokes did shoot 82 percent from the free throw line going 22-of-27, as James went 11-of-14.
Both teams started the contest slow offensively with the first bucket not going in until the 16:11 mark of the contest, as the Purple Aces scored on a layup off a Cowboy turnover. Thompson got the Pokes on the board for the first time on the night with just under 14 minutes left making it a 4-2 game.
The Pokes’ offensive troubles continued, as Evansville moved to an 8-2 advantage. Wyoming opened the game 1-of-12 from the field until James added an and-one play to make it an 8-5 game with 11:15 left in the first stanza.
Evansville extended its lead to eight points on the first three of the game for wither team with 9:25 left in the frame making it a 15-7 game. The lead was later moved to 15 points at 24-9 with six minutes left, as the Pokes were 3-of-21 from the field to that point.
James and Taylor would get the Pokes back into the contest, as James had 12 points in the first half and Taylor added five to make it a 33-24 deficit at the half. Wyoming shot only 26 percent from the field in the half going 1-of-10 from behind the three point line.
The Pokes got to work early in the first half with layups from James and Redding to cut the Purple Aces lead to five points at 34-29. A three-pointer from Austin Mueller made it a 40-36 game 16:45 left in the game.
After the Purple Aces extended the lead to seven points, a pair of technical free throws by James, and a pair of free throws from Thompson followed by a layup from James made it a 45-44 game in favor of Evansville with just under 14 minutes remaining. But back-to-back buckets pushed the UE lead back to six seconds later.
The Pokes took their first lead of the game on a 6-0 with 8:31 left in the game. James gave the Pokes the first lead of the contest, as it was 63-62 advantage with just under eight minutes remaining. This time Hendricks hit a pair of technical free throws to spark the rally.
The two teams exchanged the lead until back-to-back layups from Evansville gave them a 76-73 lead with 1:57 remaining. Evansville would add a three pointer with ninety seconds left and made their free throws late to pick up the victory.
“Our heads are going stay up and this is a growing pain with the injuries we have had,” Edwards said.
The Purple Aces were led in scoring by four scorers in double-figures. John Hall finished the game with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Noah Frederking added 17 points on the night.
The Cowboys make their return to the Arena-Auditorium on Saturday afternoon for a showdown with Front Range foe Northern Colorado at 4 p.m.