LARAMIE, Wyo. – The Wyoming Cowboys eliminated a double-digit deficit in the second half for the third-straight contest, but timely three pointers by Northern Colorado was too much for the Pokes to overcome in a 85-80 loss on Saturday evening in the Arena-Auditorium. Senior Justin James led all scorers with 25 points on the night for his 33rd game with over 20 points in his career.
“I told the team after the game that I do love their fight and their willingness to compete, especially given some of the circumstances for a kid like Maldo (Hunter Maldonado),” UW head coach Allen Edwards said. “He’s hurting, and he still was able to play 30 minutes and be very productive out on the floor tonight. I want to thank our fans for coming out again tonight, and I hope they can really rally with this group of players. I hope they know what a difference their support means to our young men.”
“But what I also talked with the guys about afterwards in the locker room was we have to get rid of the self-inflicted wounds,” Edwards said. “I thought we did a great job defending the three-point line in the first half, but then in the second half they (Northern Colorado) had a spurt where they made three or four threes in a row and it was due to our lack of urgency. They are a very good three-point shooting team, but what kept the game a close game until the end was how we defended the three-point line early.”
James added 20 of his points in the second half, including 14 in the final 10 minutes of the contest. James was 10-of-16 from the field and added a team-best eight rebounds. James also added five assists Sophomore Hunter Maldonado added 20 points in 30 gritty minutes for the Pokes. It was his second 20-point scoring game of his career.
“He played another remarkable game, and he’s doing it within our offense,” Edwards said. “He’s not selfish. He is more than a willing passer. He’s helping guys get open shots, and he’s rebounding the basketball. I’ve told him to continue to stay the course and stick with the process because in the end he is helping us get better as a basketball team.”
Redshirt freshman Hunter Thompson tied a career-high with 15 points and grabbed a career-best six rebounds. Senior Nyaires Redding and junior A.J. Banks each added nine points. It was a career-high for Banks, as Redding hit a career-high three triples.
Wyoming held one of the nation’s top three point shooting teams to only eight on the night. The Bears shot 47 percent from the field, while the Pokes shot 44 percent. The teams combined to shoot 86 percent from the free throw line with UNC getting to the stripe 27 times to the Pokes’ 16.
Northern Colorado used the free throw line to take a 6-3 lead on the Pokes in the opening three minutes. Four of the bear’s points came from the charity stripe. The Cowboys tied the contest at 6-6 on Banks three pointer with 16:12 left in the first frame.
Maldonado gave the Pokes a 13-10 advantage with just over 12 minutes remaining in the half. The junior came off the bench, as Mr. Cowboy Tough scored four-straight points. The Pokes took an eight point lead on a 10-point run for a 23-15 contest with under seven minutes remaining in the frame. Redding and Thompson both hit their second threes of the game to highlight the run.
The Bears went on a 6-0 run over three minutes to make it a two-point game at 23-21 with under four remaining. Maldonado halted the scoring streak with the Cowboys first free throws of the game. But an 8-0 run by the Bear gave UNC a 29-25 lead with under a minute left in the half and took a 31-28 advantage in to the break.
The Pokes went 3-of-4 from the field including two three pointers to take a 36-34 lead after halftime. Northern Colorado responded with a 14-2 run to take a 48-38 advantage with 12:14 left in the game.
James led Wyoming on a 6-0 run with two from the line and a layup, he also found Maldonado for a layup to make it a 50-46 game with just under 10 minutes left. The Pokes battled to tie the game at 52-52 with four-straight free throws with just over eight minutes remaining. But the Bears added back-to-back three to build the lead back to six just seconds later.
Northern Colorado would add two more threes back-to-back for four-straight to build the advantage to 64-56 with six minutes remaining. The Pokes would cut it to four points on a pair of occasion, but once again the three ball helped Northern Colorado build the lead back to 10 points with 90 seconds remaining.
The Pokes would not go away late, as James was sensational pulling Wyoming within two points with 16 seconds left, as he and Redding hit clutch three pointers in the final 30 seconds, but the Bears got it done at the line to earn the 85-80 win.
UNC was led by one of the nation’s top scorers, as Jordan Davis had 21 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. Bodie Hume added 23 points and five rebounds. He went 4-of-8 from behind the arc and hit four-straight to close the game.
Wyoming returns to action on Wednesday hosting SEC foe South Carolina in the Arena-Auditorium. The contest will be streamed on Stadium and Facebook.