(UW Athletics release)
LAS VEGAS – The Cowboys held an 11-point halftime lead, but couldn’t hold off New Mexico’s comeback in the second half, falling 78-68 in the first round of the 2019 Air Force Reserve Mountain West Championships. The Cowboys end the season 8-24 overall, while New Mexico improved to 14-17.
“I thought obviously in the first half we played some of our best basketball, defending, also rebounding the basketball, even within their pressure,” Wyoming head coach Allen Edwards said. “I thought they tried to speed us up, which I thought, at times, I thought they were successful. But the second half I thought, again, some self-inflicted wounds. I thought we got a little bit careless with the basketball and wasn’t assertive, in a sense o trying to attack their pressure but also being smart on the other end after taking it and getting it across half court.”
Senior Justin James had a game-high 31 points, the third time this season he eclipsed the 30-point barrier. James moved into fourth place all-time in scoring in the Mountain West with 2,061 points, passing former Fresno State Bulldog Marvelle Harris. James also moved into third all-time at Wyoming, passing Flynn Robertson.
James had a team-high seven rebounds and tied junior AJ Banks for the team lead with four assists.
Senior Jordan Naughton added 10 points, reaching double-digit scoring for the fifth time this season. Junior Jake Hendricks scored nine points, all coming from beyond the three-point line.
Both offenses got out to a slow start in the opening four minutes of the contest. James led the Pokes to an early 7-4 lead with five points and added an assists on a bucket from Banks that opened the contest.
Hendricks helped extended the Pokes lead to six points at 12-6 with 14:18 left in the first half. His basket was following a sweet low post move by redshirt freshman Hunter Thompson for his first basket of the contest.
James hit an NBA range three with 11:06 left in the half to push the Wyoming lead to 11 points at 19-8. To that point of the ball game, the Pokes held the Lobos to 15 percent from the field going 2-of-13. The Pokes would build the advantage to 26-11 on yet another James three, as he was fouled and added a free throw.
The Lobos followed with an 8-3 run to make it a 29-19 game with 7:20 left in the first frame. It was led by New Mexico’s first three pointers of the game. New Mexico would cut it to as little as seven points, but a three from Hendricks a pair of freebies from Banks would give UW a 34-22 advantage with 4:19 left in the frame.
Wyoming would hold the Lobos scoreless for 4:20 and push an advantage to 16 points at 38-22. The Pokes would ride that momentum into half time for an 11-point lead at 38-27.
The Lobos opened the second half forcing three turnovers and cutting into the Pokes lead. New Mexico made it a six point game at 40-34. But Banks and James helped push the lead back to 13-points with a 7-0 run to make it a 47-24 lead for the Pokes with under 15 minutes remaining.
The Lobos would hold the Cowboys scoreless for over five minutes and went on a 15-0 run to take a 49-47 lead with just under ten minutes remaining. The Lobos went five of six from the field during that stretch of play.
After James tied the game at 49-49 with his 21st point of the game, passing Flynn Robinson for third in UW history, the Lobos would go on a 5-0 run to build a 54-49 advantage. The Pokes would cut the deficit to three points twice, but an and-one from Keith McGee made it a 61-55 game with 5:29 left.
The Pokes would four of five attempts and made it a one-point game at 62-61 with 3:24 left, as Naughton slammed home a dunk. But a 6-0 run by New Mexico led by a pair of dunks lifted the Lobos to the 78-68 win.
The Lobos were led by Vance Jackson with 26 points and eight rebounds, while Makuach Maluach scored 13, Keith McGee scored 12 and Carlton Bragg added 10 points.