LARAMIE -- Jeff Linder said he wanted to walk out of the Arena-Auditorium Wednesday night with clarification on one subject -- where his team stands.

Well, if this game is any indication, his team can score in bunches, defend the three-point line, dish the ball, play with any lineup -- big or small -- and rebound.

Yes, I said the "R-word."

The Cowboys did that on both ends of the floor, finishing with a 37-32 advantage.

Another category that has been troublesome at times in years past -- turnovers -- were far and few between for the home team in this one. Wyoming gave the ball away just six times. Not too shabby for the first outing of the season, huh?

"Well, it's still Nov. 10. We have a long ways to go," Linder said. "But, I feel like just to see us collectively in the way that we defended."

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Wyoming dominated in all phases of this one, including holding the nation's third-leafing scorer last season, Antoine Davis, to just 16 points, well below his 24-point average. Xavier DuSell did a masterful job on Davis all night long, shadowing the senior and forcing bad shots.

Detroit Mercy, a program loaded with scorers, connected on just 18-of-58 shots in this one. That's 31% from the field. That team averaged 76 points per outing in 2020-21.

Make no mistake, there was an emphasis on stopping the honorable mention All-American. Linder said he challenged DuSell on the defensive end of the floor after the Cowboys final scrimmage.

He responded.

"The effort that X made to sit down and guard him -- I expect so much from him on the defensive end -- his effort on Davis, to basically force Davis to shoot 18 shots and only score 16 points, he had to earn every single shot that he got," Linder said. "What you saw was the maturity of our team and how they handled a scouting report."

Maldonado called DuSell the "heart" of the Cowboys defense.

"He was just making sure he couldn't get anything easy and making things tough on him," Maldonado said.

Speaking of masterful.

Hunter Maldonado, the "old man" on this young roster, finished with 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting. That makes for an impressive enough outing. But the redshirt junior from Colorado Springs wasn't satisfied with just racking up points. He shared the wealth, dishing out a team-high nine assists, including a no-look heave deep in the paint to a hard-charging Jeremiah Oden, who flushed it down with authority to give the Cowboys and early 6-0 lead.

Speaking of hard charging.

Graham Ike spent the majority of the opener bullying any and everyone who Detroit Mercy head coach Mike Davis through in his direction. South Florida transfer Prince Oduro didn't have much success slowing down the 6-foot-10, 252-pound freshman. Neither did Madut Akec or Noah Waterman.

With 11:20 left in the second half, Ike pulled down a Brendan Wenzel miss under the hoop. Despite having DJ Harvey hanging all over him -- literally -- the Colorado product muscled up a lay in and drew the foul. It was worthy of the fist pump that followed. It was also his team-leading 16th point of the game.

"I mean, he's special, special," Linder said with a grin. "The attention that he'll draw, you get to decide, 'OK, pick your poison.'"

Ike netted a team-best 22 points and pulled down five rebounds. He was powerful, quick and more times than not finished around the rim. He was all that was advertised. He also committed just two fouls.

Wyoming shot 55% from the field and four Cowboys -- Ike, Maldonado, Drake Jeffries, (12) and Oden (14) -- all scored in double figures. UW also sank nine 3-pointers in the rout.

It was that good.

So, where does this team stand?

If they play like this, certainly not eighth in the final conference standings.

Wyoming 85, Detroit Mercy 47




Who's that guy?

Jeremiah Oden never played more than seven minutes in any of the Cowboys final six games last season.

He didn't pout.

He didn't complain.

Instead, if you ask his coaches, he simply went back to work.

Wednesday night, the freshman from Chicago not only played 24 minutes, he started. The 6-foot-8 forward paid off his coaches with a 14-point outing on 6-of-7 shooting from the field. He hit a 3-pointer. He pulled down three boards and blocked a pair of shots.

His turnaround jumper was falling. So was the high-percentage stuff, like the two jams that brought a roar from the crowd inside the A-A.

"JO, I thought, I've been saying for a while now, he's really taking that next step," Linder said. "His body is finally coming along, he gained 15 pounds, and he just puts in so much work and it was eventually going to pay off. For him to come out and play the way he did, it's good for us to see that and it's good for him to see it."

Maldonado said despite Oden's limited minutes last season, that experience is beginning to pay off.

"I think he knows his role and does it really well," he said.

If this Jeremiah Oden shows up throughout the year for this young team, Wyoming could feature one of the top front courts in the Mountain West, along with Ike and Eoin Nelson.

Oden showed flashes early last fall, but the guy we saw Wednesday night looks more comfortable than ever. And it's not just a matter of the opponent, either. Detroit Mercy has plenty of length and size in the paint.

It just didn't matter.




The old man

Linder thinks Maldonado can be even better.

If he plays the way he did Wednesday night, that's not a far-fetched comment.

The redshirt junior and elder statesman of this program did it all. He ran the point, found openings all over the Titans' defense, made plenty of shots and got to the free throw line by being a nuisance in the paint.

Linder said the Cowboys offense would run through No. 24. He wasn't kidding.

"He did exactly what I expected him to do," Linder said. "You know, for him to have 19 points, nine assists and zero turnovers -- that's a guy that can be a triple-double guy almost every night."

Maldonado's ability to see the floor, make the pass or hit the shot makes him dangerous. Sure, we've seen him do all of these things for what seems like the last two decades in this building, but the biggest difference now is he has a supporting cast.

Ike opens up things just as much as he clogs them up. DuSell and Jeffries can always find a way to get open and Oden is awaiting passes near the paint. This can be a scary team with Maldonado leading the way.

"When he plays at his pace, I mean he's really good," Linder said. "That's what he did tonight."

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