LARAMIE, Wyo. – The Wyoming Cowboys opened the contest holding one of the Mountain West’s top shooting teams to 25 percent from the field, but a late first half surge lifted Utah State past Wyoming 71-55 on Saturday evening in the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie. Wyoming falls to 4-13 overall and 0-4 in the MW, as the Aggies move to 12-6 overall and 2-2 in the conference.
“I thought the game plan we put together was the right one, in a sense of trying to take number 5 (Sam) Merrill out of the game as much as we could,” Wyoming head coach Allen Edwards said. “Even with the slower pace, we had the lead for most of the half. We played a good 17 minutes, but we had some mental lapses toward the end of the first half that enabled them to cut the lead and then take the lead before halftime. Overall, I thought the guys came out with good energy tonight to start the game. We just need to put 40 minutes together like that.”
Senior Justin James led all scorers with 27 points, as he went over 1,700 points in his career. He was 10-of-21 from the field and added 10 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season and 13th of his career. James has scored over 20 points in 11 games this season.
Freshman Trevon “TJ” Taylor added 14 points for back-to-back games in double-figures for the first time in his career. Taylor finished the night with a career-high four three-pointers. Freshman Walk-on Haize Fornstrom, who was just added to the roster played 10 minutes for the Pokes in his debut.
“Coming off our two-game road trip, I told both T.J. (Taylor) and A.J. (Banks) that the way teams were playing us they both had to be ready to shoot the basketball when their opportunities came,” Edwards said. “Teams are going to try the best they can to plug the floor up and not let J.J. (Justin James) drive the basketball. When that happens, our other guys have to be ready to shoot the basketball, and I thought T.J. did a great job shooting the basketball today, as well as putting the ball on the floor and trying to play at the rim when he had those opportunities.”
“J.J. is J.J. He scores 27 and has 10 rebounds, but when you point out some things that maybe he could do better he takes that teaching well. To see his overall production at the end of the day is impressive. For a guard to have 10 rebounds is a strong performance.”
Wyoming shot 40 percent from the field on the night going 20-of-50. The Aggies after opening the game 4-of-16 finished the night shooting 47 percent. Wyoming, who averages 24 free throw attempts recorded only 13 on the night. Utah State held a 40-29 advantage on the glass for the night. Wyoming took excellent care of the basketball recording nine tying for the second fewest this season.
Taylor scored the first eight points of the game for the Pokes to build an early 8-2 advantage for the Brown and Gold in the opening three minutes. Wyoming held the Aggies to 1-of-5 from the field to open the contest with the only make coming on the first basket of the game.
The Pokes continued to be in control building a 16-8 lead nearly halfway through the half. The Aggies were 4-of-16 from the field to that point of the contest and were 0-of-9 from behind the arc.
The Aggies hit their first three-pointer of the game with 7:34 left in the first half to make it a 16-13 contest in favor of the Pokes, but Hunter Thompson responded right back with a three of his own. The Aggies would hold the Pokes scoreless for nearly four minutes tying the contest at 19-19 with 3:42 remaining in the half.
Utah State hit six of their last seven shots to close the first half and took a 32-25 lead into the break. Sam Merrill hit a three-pointer as time expired. The run late by Utah State saw the Aggies finish at 39 percent from the field, as Wyoming shot 35 percent in the opening 20 minutes.
The Pokes opened the half on a 5-2 run to make it a 34-30 contests in the opening minutes of the second frame. An and-one play from A.J. Banks highlighted the early surge for Wyoming. Taylor added two three-pointers to make it a 39-36 game with 14:31 left in the game, but the Aggies went on an 11-1 run to build a 50-37 advantage with a tick over the 11 minute mark.
A dunk by Jordan Naughton on a nice dish from James pulled the Pokes within nine points at 52-43 with 10 minutes left. But the Aggies quickly pushed the lead back to double-digits leading by as many as 15 points.
James continued his offensive aggression late, but the Aggies continued to put on pressure and took the contest 71-55.
Utah State was led by Merrill, as the second leading scorer in the MW behind James scored 22 points and added eight rebounds. Neemias Queta added 14 points going 6-of-7 from the field.
The Cowboys return to action next Saturday heading to New Mexico for a contest against the Lobos at 4 p.m. on ESPN3.