Dominate second half surges Cowboys past Denver, 77-64
* University of Wyoming athletics media relations release
LARAMIE – The Cowboys held the Denver Pioneers to 43-percent shooting in the second half on their way to their seventh-straight win to open the season in a 77-64 win on Thursday evening in the Arena-Auditorium.
It is the best start to a season since Wyoming won seven to open the 2014-15 season.
Forward Graham Ike netted a career-high 35 points for the most points in a game since Justin James had 36 points against Colorado State on Feb. 9, 2019.
“I challenged the guys at shoot-around today. We’re not good enough to let up just a little bit. Give credit to Denver,” UW head coach Jeff Linder said. “I have a lot of respect for what that coaching staff is doing right now. Their team has a toughness to them and they have a plan. There is a reason they almost beat Utah Valley the other night, and Utah Valley just beat BYU. We knew we had our hands full coming into this game, but we just weren’t locked in enough in the first half. We gave up five threes to two guys who we didn’t want to let take those shots. We gave No. 5 (Coban Porter) three of them and No. 11 (Jordan Johnson) two.
"At halftime, I said, ‘listen guys if we didn’t let those two score 15 points what is the score.’ I told them we had to eliminate those threes and dial in just a little bit more and we’ll be OK. Credit to our guys. They came out and got a kill to start the second half and then we went on a 9-0 run, and from there we did what we needed to do.”
Ike recorded a career high 35 points and career-high 14 rebounds. He was fouled 13 times in the game and was 13-of-17 from the free throw line. He also went 11-of-17 from the field. Guard Hunter Maldonado added 15 points and three assists. Forward Jeremiah Oden and guard Drake Jeffries each added nine points. Oden tied a career-high with three blocks.
“For Graham, that is what I expect from him,” Linder said. “He puts in the work and he’s a hard, hard guard for opposing teams. It’s not just the fact that he had 35 (points) and 14 (rebounds), but he drew 13 fouls on Denver. Sometimes it’s a cumulative effect with him and Maldo over the course of a game. That second half, those last two minutes, when you can get the ball inside with both of those guys and you know you’re going to get something good, it allows your offense to be really efficient. In the second half, I thought our offense was really good.”
Wyoming shot 45 percent from the field for a season-low but used 12 offensive rebounds and 12 second chance points and 13 points off turnovers. Denver shot 43 percent from the field after shooting 56 percent in the first frame. The Pioneers knocked down five threes in the first half but were held to 0-8 in the second frame.
“It was great to see the fans come out tonight,” Linder said. “We had a great student section tonight. We need to continue to build on that. The fans showed up and hopefully we’ll get even more to show up on Saturday. We need them on Saturday. We’ll be playing our third game in six days, and it’s a quick turnaround. We need their energy. It’s going to be great weather on Saturday for a 2 p.m. game, so I hope people get in their cars and come to the Double A.”
After Denver opened the contest on a 5-0 run, Jeffries added a pair of three-pointers and Ike added a jumper to take an 8-5 lead at the 17:31 mark of the first frame. The Pioneers would battle back and take a 12-10 lead after a pair of freebies from Michael Henn.
Wyoming would go on a 6-0 run to take a 18-12 lead with just over 14 minutes remaining in the opening half. The surge was paced by four points from Ike and a pair of layups from Oden and Maldonado.
The Pioneers would make it a one-point game halfway through the half until Maldonado added an and-one play to give the Pokes a 23-19 lead. Forward Hunter Thompson added a three-pointer to make it a seven-point game at 27-19 at the 8:17 mark of the opening half.
The Pokes would take a 10-point lead with 4:32 left in the first half on a pair of free throws from Maldonado. Henn would bank in a three-pointer and added a layup, as Denver made 6-of-7 shots to take a 39-38 lead with 1:02 left in the first half. Wyoming went scoreless the final 2:17 of the half with Denver taking the 41-38 lead into the half.
Jeffries opened the second half with a three-pointer to tie the game at 41-41. Ike would add a layup and Oden added a three-pointer to open the half on an 8-0 run and take a 46-41 lead two and a half minutes into the frame.
Ike helped the Pokes build a seven-point lead at 51-44 with five-straight points for the Pokes with 13:50 left in the game. Wenzel would hit a reverse layup to make it a nine-point game at 57-48 halfway through the frame.
The big man would give Wyoming an 11-point lead at 64-53 five-straight points for the Cowboys with 5:58 left in the game. Oden would make it a 13-point game with a pair of free throws with 3:55 left for a 60-57 game.
The Cowboys closed the game 1-of-8 from the field, but Maldonado and Ike got it done from the line and the Wyoming defense held the Pioneers to one basket in the final 3:35 to take the win.
The Pioneers were led by Henn with 19 points. Johnson added 11 points and KJ Hunt added seven rebounds. He was the leading scorer at 17 points per game and was held to eight on the night.
The Cowboys return to action on Saturday hosting McNeese State for a 2 p.m. in the Arena-Auditorium.