‘It was a breaking point for me’
LARAMIE -- The memories of a 19-point second-half collapse were still fresh.
Wyoming was hammering away on its Border War rival 54-35 with roughly 14:00 to go. The Cowboys, who had won just six games all season up to that point, were making things look awfully easy that brisk February afternoon in Laramie.
That's when Colorado State got off the mat.
The Rams went on a 42-16 tear from that point forward and pulled away for the improbable 77-70 victory. The visitor's celebration was brief, but impactful. The few thousand in the arena seats were as stunned as the players.
Fast forward two weeks.
With 11:58 remaining on the clock in the opening round of the Mountain West Tournament, CSU's Adam Thistlewood drained a three-point shot to make it a two-point contest.
Again, the Cowboys watched a 16-point lead evaporate.
Only this time was different.
In that first matchup, Wyoming freshman Kwane Marble was solid. He snagged a team-best six rebounds and netted 12 points, though four of those came at the free-throw line.
In Sin City, the Denver product was like a different player all together.
He aggressively slashed his way through the lane, making acrobatic shots around the rim. He stepped out and sank 4-of-7 triples, too. He finished with a pair of steals and dished out two assists.
He was clearly the Cowboys best player on that night as the underdogs held off its biggest nemesis, 80-74, sending CSU and its NCAA Tournament hopes a one-way plane ticket to Denver International Airport.
"It was an awesome feeling," said Marble, who finished the night with a team-best 20 points en route to being named to the MW All-Tournament Team. "It felt great to go in and get revenge."
That was Marble's best performance in his early career. For one night at least. Less than 24 hours later, the guard scored 24 points in an even more surprising upset win over the league's No. 3 seed, Nevada.
That was big, Marble said, but his game -- and swagger -- emerged against the Rams.
"It helped my confidence a lot," he said. "It was a breaking point for me, knowing CSU was a great team with wonderful players. (Isaiah) Stevens is phenomenal. Being able to go out there, on a neutral court, and beat them was very uplifting. It was a huge confidence builder."
Despite a 15-point outing in the semifinals, Wyoming fell one game short of the title game, losing to Utah State, 89-82.
Still, the foundation of what to come was laid out.
Would he reach his potential at Wyoming became the question after Allen Edwards was fired after the flight home from Las Vegas?
Jeff Linder was hired on St. Patrick's Day. With the COVID-19 pandemic starting to make its way across the country, the Cowboys new head man knew he had to get in one quick recruiting trip before the country would come to a stand still.
He needed to re-recruit the talent that was already on the roster.
"He told me 100-percent truth," Marble said of his first official visit with Linder at his home in Colorado. "He told me that within his system I'd get what I earned. He said nothing would be handed to you. I personally like that like. I like to be pushed every day, have goals and have someone settled for nothing less than my best."
Hunter Maldonado, Kenny Foster and Hunter Thompson bought the sales pitch, too.
Through 15 games, Marble is averaging 10.2 points per outing. He's pulling down more than four boards and shooting 46 percent from the field. Eight of those games have ended with Marble in double-figures scoring, despite missing the first two games of the year due to coronavirus quarantine protocols.
For the first time since that meeting last March, CSU is coming to town tonight for a 7 p.m. tipoff.
Once again, Wyoming will play the role of underdog.
Once again, Marble has plenty to prove.
CSU's head coach Niko Medved recruited Marble out of East High School in Denver. He was at Drake University then. When he got the gig in Fort Collins, Marble said communication was non-existent.
That adds just a little more juice for this game.
"When they got to CSU, they lost contact," he said. "I think it adds some animosity. I took it personal. They obviously believed I could play at this level. I take that personally and am working to prove I can."