3 Quick takes: Cowboys show no mercy in 76-49 rout
LARAMIE — The second half of basketball games hasn't been too friendly to the Wyoming Cowboys early on this season.
During a three-game losing skid, Wyoming was outscored 109-69 in the final 20 minutes of the game. The Cowboys led by five at the break against Cal State Fullerton. They trailed by just seven against Oregon State of the Pac 12.
That all changed Tuesday night in a 76-49 victory over Detroit Mercy inside the Arena-Auditorium.
Instead of squandering a 33-31 halftime lead, the Cowboys extended it -- big time. Wyoming went on a 13-0 run to start the frame. They did it with precision passing, timely 3-pointers and strong inside play from sophomore forward, TJ Taylor.
The Chesapeake, Va., product finished with a game-high 22 points. That was also a career high for the big man. He also pulled down six rebounds in 30 minutes of work. Not a bad way to celebrate a 21st birthday.
"My teammates, as well as my coach, tell me to be aggressive because we have so many threats on the perimeter and it just opens up my game," Taylor said. "When I see those opportunities, I just have to attack."
Wyoming (2-3) wasn't plagued by the usual issues through the first nine minutes of the half: turnovers, missed shots and lack of rebounding. Instead, they got open shots and made them count.
Wyoming actually won the rebounding battle, 43-37. That's significant for a number of reasons, one being that the Titans owned the glass in a loss to North Carolina State and finished just one shy at Clemson.
The Cowboys also spread the love on offense.
It wasn't all on Hunter Maldonado's shoulders for once, though the redshirt sophomore did pour in 13 points in 29 minutes. Maldonado led the Pokes in scoring in the first four games of the season.
"You guys know me, I don't really care about scoring, so, the win is all I care about." Maldonado said. "Coming out with this win is huge ... Anyone can go off any night. Tonight we had four guys in double digits. Tonight it was TJ, but it was even AJ Banks coming down hitting threes. Them doing that opens up the floor a lot .... For me, it takes more eyes off of me so I can get to the rim or shoot open shots."
Banks got offensive. The senior netted 15. So did Jake Hendricks, who hit 4-of-10 from beyond the arc and landed his first career double-double with 10 rebounds. Hunter Thompson and Kenny Foster pitched in, too, with six and four, respectively. Thompson also had 10 rebounds for the Pokes.
For the first time this season, the Cowboys received secondary scoring.
The Titans (0-3) couldn't key on Maldonado. When they tried, Hendricks stroked a three. When they shifted to the point guard, Taylor got in the lane and made hay.
They beat a winless team they way they should, especially on their home court.
"I thought they needed to see themselves do this to help them understand that they are capable of doing this," Wyoming head coach Allen Edwards said about the offensive outburst.
Wyoming 76, Detroit Mercy 49
Banks, Taylor hold key to Pokes success
The Cowboys capped that early 13-0 scoring run in electric fashion.
I should say Taylor did.
The sophomore rejected a sure layup at one end of the floor, got on his horse and headed to the offensive end. There, he was fed a pass in the paint and he promptly deposited it in the hoop with a thunderous one-handed dunk.
It was the loudest this building got all night.
It also showed what the 6-foot, 6-inch inside presence can do. Last week after a loss to Cal State Fullerton, Taylor, who scored 10 points that night, was asked why he hadn't produced like that on a regular basis.
Consistency, he said, has been an issue early on in his Wyoming career.
That hasn't changed.
For the first time this season, Taylor was inserted into the starting lineup Saturday night with the Oregon State Beavers in town. He responded by scoring two points. He also turned the ball over and committed three fouls in 23 minutes.
Edwards gave him another chance Tuesday night. This time, Taylor was arguably the best player on the court for most of the night.
"I challenged TJ after the Oregon State game," Edwards said. "He had two points. I told him we need more. I'm not saying you have to give us 22 every night, but you can't give us two. He has to find ways. Maldo didn't have to shoulder the offensive scoring."
If tonight's Taylor shows up -- consistently -- Wyoming will have a legit threat in the paint and allow Thompson to float around the perimeter and make shots. He also frees up Hendricks and Maldonado to do their thing.
Taylor could hold the key for the Pokes success this season because of his versatility. With his skill set, asking for double-digit performances on a nightly basis shouldn't be asking too much.
Banks scored 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field. He even hit three from deep. But his most impressive stats was 11. That's how many points he gave up to the nation's third-leading scorer, Antoine Davis.
Davis averaged 27 a night coming into Laramie. He shot just 5-for-23 from the field Tuesday night.
"I complimented him on his complete game tonight," Edwards said. "That's what we have been looking for. What I do believe is, because of what we needed him to do defensively, it gave him even more confidence offensively. I thought he played a complete basketball game and that is something this team needs from him consistently. It can't be a one-trick pony type of deal."
Banks said he isn't taking all the credit for shutting down Davis.
"It was my job to try and contain him," the senior said. "Tonight, it was a multiple effort from not only me but the rest of our guys. I had the task, but it was a team effort."
Detroit Mercy's head coach has been in this spot
Back in 2012, Mike Davis was fired as the head basketball coach of Alabama-Birmingham.
UAB didn't expel the current Detroit Mercy bench boss because of poor performance on the court, but lack of attendance, poor ticket sales and disinterest among boosters.
UAB athletic director Brian Mackin said this to ESPN back then.
"As the athletic director, I looked at the big picture of the program and where we are right now. I made an evaluation looking at the full body of work," Mackin told ESPN. "While our team has experienced a certain level of success during the past six years, we are not where we want to be.
"We have seen an increase in apathy among our fans, a noticeable drop in attendance, as well as a decrease in ticket revenues and scholarship dollars."
Davis directed the Blazers to four straight 20-win seasons. During his first season at Indiana, replacing legendary head coach Bob Knight, no less, Davis led the Hoosiers to the National Championship game. He has the winning pedigree.
None of that mattered.
Tuesday night, the Arena-Auditorium was sparsely populated. The school says there were 2,967 in the building. That's become the norm in what was once known as the "Dome of Doom."
Social media posts focused on lack of interest in the program, not the fact that Wyoming had a 33-31 lead at the half or blew the Titans away in the second. No, they gripped about Edwards instead of congratulating Taylor on a career performance.
You get the picture.
How long can it continue on this way?
During the offseason, Wyoming athletic director Tom Burman said significant progress was needed in the men's basketball program this winter.
This Cowboy team is young and inexperienced. They deserve a chance to show they can compete on the court. Tuesday night, they looked like a team who can. Taylor isn't the only one striving for consistency around here.
Wyoming will host Louisiana Lafayette Thursday night at the Arena-Auditorium as they continue the campus portion of the MGM Main Event, which will be played next week in T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The Cowboys take on No. 23 Colorado Nov. 24 at 6 p.m.