3 Quick takes: Williams slams door on Nevada comeback
LARAMIE -- I'll admit it -- I was ready to give up on this one.
It was looking very Texas Southernish for this young Wyoming team. You remember that debacle, right? The Cowboys blew a 20-point second-half lead in the second game of the season before eventually falling, 76-74.
Air Force did it to Jeff Linder's team last Saturday night in Colorado Springs, too.
Welp, it happened again tonight.
Leading 41-21 early in the second half, Wyoming allowed Nevada go on a 26-5 run and eventually grab a brief 49-48 lead.
I started typing away. This one was in the bag, right?
This team obviously can't hold on to a lead no matter how big it is.
My first sentence of that now-trashed column had to do with Mariano Rivera, the great former closer of the New York Yankees. All he did for 19 Major League seasons was finish off opponents late in games.
When No. 42 came through the back gate and Enter Sandman was blaring from the stadium loudspeakers, it was all but over.
I thought, who is going to be that guy for the Cowboys? Who can Linder trust to put games on ice? Has one even emerged yet on this roster littered with freshmen and underclassmen?
Only one person came to mind: Marcus Williams.
Why? He's one of the freshman. So what if he's the leading scorer. You know why Williams is that guy? Because Linder -- and Williams himself -- have set those kind of lofty goals and expectations. That's why Williams spent the first three minutes on the bench against Boise State nine nights ago.
He wasn't playing up to his abilities.
Of course, Linder called tonight's crazy 71-64 victory a group effort in his postgame press conference. He's right, too. However, it's Williams who stirs the drink. He sets the tone. He lights the fuse.
Here's a quick example in the video below:
This play, as amazing as it is visually, could've been devastating for the home team tonight. Williams took off from the corner and skied toward the rim, throwing down a monstrous dunk with his right hand.
His left, however, was wrapped around the head of Desmond Cambridge Jr. on the way down. It appeared that the freshman from Texas tossed his Nevada counterpart to the wood. That's the way the officials saw it, too.
Williams was hit with a dead-ball technical foul and Cambridge hit the first free throw to tie the game at 50-50 with 6:56 to play. He would miss the second from the stripe, but the Wolf Pack would retain possession and every ounce of the momentum.
Instead, they did nothing with it. They were stifled the rest of the way.
All the Cowboys (9-5, 3-4) did was go on an 11-1 run that was bookended by a pair of three-pointers from Kenny Foster and Xavier DuSell to give the Cowboys a late 10-point lead.
"Marcus makes a big-time play down on the baseline on the dunk, and then from that point on, you could just kind of see our guys (take off)," Linder said, adding that three of the five players on the floor were true freshmen. "... (That was big) for those guys to respond the way they did."
That wasn't all.
If you just look at the scoresheet, it doesn't appear Williams had all that great of a night. After all, he averages 16.3 points per game. Tonight, he netted 13, seven of which came from the free-throw line.
Those numbers couldn't be any more deceiving.
After the seven-minute mark, Williams scored just six points, but he also dished out a trio of key assists and two clutch rebounds. More importantly, he controlled the pace of the game. He drew eyes in his direction.
He got to the stripe and made the Wolf Pack (10-6, 5-4) pay, hitting all six of his free throws.
"It was big," Kwane Marble said of Williams' play down the stretch. "Marcus is a great player. I love playing with him. He's young, but he doesn't seem young. He knows how to play the game of basketball. His impact on the court is phenomenal."
"I think Marcus is one hell of a player," he said. "I love that guy to death. Just being able to have someone like that, someone who can control the game as well as he can and manipulate it to so many different possibilities, I think it's it's phenomenal.
"I love having him on my team. I'd hate to go against him."
Ask Nevada's leading scorer Grant Sherfield how that worked out for him tonight?
The sophomore guard came in averaging 18.7 points per game. That's the third best mark in the conference. Williams and Co. held him to just one bucket in the first half and eight points overall.
Linder joked after this one that he is aging in "dog years." Watching this young roster grow up can be painful at times. It can also be rewarding more often than not.
Tonight was one of those nights.
Linder isn't quite ready to hand over the ninth inning to Williams. He will likely take that over with his play like he did tonight. It will always be a group effort. Linder reiterated that again and again.
But there's little doubt No. 1 wants the ball in his hands with the game on the line.
"I thought he did a really good job of getting into the paint," Linder said. "And the guys did a really good job of playing off of him. He really made some great passes. He has got such a great feel."
Wyoming 71, Nevada 64
Give him the hat
Kenny Foster entered his postgame Zoom press conference with a white hard hat on.
What's the significance?
It's obvious really. I just wanted to hear his take on it.
"So, it's a it's a new tradition coach (Sundance) Wicks did it for us," Foster said with a wide smile. "It's for the hardest working player of the game, he gets the hard hat at the end. So, it's pretty fun."
Boy, was that deserved, too.
Foster matched Marble for a team-high 15 points on the night. The Colorado product scored the first five points of the game for the Cowboys and scored five more in a row late, nailing a three-pointer and hitting a pair of free throws to give Wyoming a 55-50 lead with just 5:21 left on the game clock.
Linder says Foster is the best pure shooter on the roster, but that's not all he brings to the table.
Shooters don't earn hard hats, right?
Foster is the rare guard that isn't afraid to go lurking in the dirty areas. He mixes it up in the paint with men that tower over him. He dives on the floor for loose balls. He snags rebounds and comes out of piles of bodies that leave you wondering, 'how did he do that?'
Tonight, Foster finished with a team-best seven rebounds, three on the offensive end. He had a steal and a block, too.
He was the best all-around player on the floor for the Cowboys tonight.
"I thought Kenny came up with a lot of big plays that just kept us without really just collapsing," Linder said. "Then, when found a way to make that run, it was just a collective effort."
Graham Ike played in a basketball game tonight for the first time in 14 months. The Aurora, Colo., native tore his ACL during his senior season at Overland High School.
Still, he was a main target for Linder in recruiting.
We saw flashes of why tonight.
No, Ike didn't score a point. The lone time the ball did find the bucket, he was called for a travel. It was that kind of night for the 6-foot-9 forward. The stat line wasn't impressive: 0-2 from the field, three rebounds, a steal and an assist, four turnovers and five fouls in nine minutes of play.
Linder said Thursday afternoon that fans shouldn't expect to see "Kareem Abdul-Jabbar" out there in Ike's first collegiate game. He wasn't kidding.
Ike might have been rusty and a tad over aggressive at times, but the important part is he got that out of the way.
He ran the floor, he boxed out and battled in the paint, and he even skied to reject an easy lay in before falling hard on the court and picking up his fourth foul.
"There's a presence," Linder said of Ike, adding that he looked more like "Willis Reed" than Kareem tonight. "... He got thrown into the mix in a high-level Division-I game against good players. For him, I mean, I knew it wasn't going to be perfect, but it just provides a presence. He's so physical. And he's a guy that kind of just brings everybody together. He just has one of those, you know, infectious personalities that just kind of just brings all the young guys -- and the old guys -- everybody together."
Marble, who played AAU basketball with Ike in high school, said his presence very much played a part in this one.
"His ginormous wingspan, covering up a lot of ground, had a lot of Nevada's players second guessing whether or not they should attack the basket or not," Marble said of Ike. "His presence was big tonight."