Three takes: One for the record books
LARAMIE -- This one went according to plan.
Hastings College, an NAIA team based 409 miles east on Interstate-80 in Nebraska, played this game with just seven healthy bodies. COVID-19 protocols ravaged the Broncos already outmanned roster.
How bad were the circumstances?
The visitors starting five were all guards. Only one player, Mathias Nchekwube, averaged more than three points per game. Three starters hadn't even played yet this season.
Give them plenty of credit, though. The score didn't show it, but this team was scrappy, hitting 44% of its shots, well above the 30.7% Wyoming allowed through its first four games.
Wyoming's top guard, Hunter Maldonado, didn't even dress, taking an opportunity to rest after leading the Cowboys to back-to-back road wins over Washington and Grand Canyon.
So, the key to this one: win, don't suffer any injuries and watch a few balls fly through the hoop.
Apparently fine-tuning the 3-point shooting was also on the docket.
Wyoming tied an NCAA record Friday night, sinking 28 triples. Drake Jeffries broke the school and Mountain West mark with 11 in the win. Xavier DuSell added six.
"They were allowing us to shoot threes, and when you recruit guys like we do, they can make shots," Wyoming head coach Jeff Linder said postgame.
We'll get more in depth on that in a minute.
Linder's squad is now 5-0 for the first time since the 2014-15 season. The Cowboys opened that campaign with seven straight wins.
This one was all about gaining confidence for a few guys with an eye on the future, which includes a road trip to Cal State Fullerton Monday night, a road tilt at No. 17 Arizona Dec. 8 and the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii in late December that features an opening-round meeting with Stanford.
Hunter Thompson and Xavier DuSell needed a breakout game offensively. They did just that, scoring 15 and 20, respectively.
Linder raved about the maturity of his team in this one. Despite being one of the youngest squads in the country, they didn't play down to the competition or get sloppy aside from an opening few minutes, which Linder said he expected.
"You know, we're going to play the right way, regardless of what the score is," he said. "We always treat it one possession at a time, but in a game like that, it really shows where your maturity is as a team. It's a challenge. A mature team handles this the right way, an immature team goes out there and, you know, kind of throw the ball around and it just looks bad."
Four Cowboys finished in double digits, led by Jeffries career-night with 33. Graham Ike, added 14 in the win. He also pulled down 10 rebounds to earn his second-career double-double.
DuSell smiled when asked if the team had already been scolded for allowing such a high shooting percentage.
"Absolutely," he said.
It's never perfect, is it? This one darn near was.
Wyoming 108, Hastings 59
GET HIM GOING
Hunter Thompson hit his one and only 3-pointer in the second half of last Monday night's 68-61 victory over Grand Canyon in Phoenix.
Slowly making his way back from a bout with mono, the Pine Bluffs product attempted just five from deep before this meeting with Hastings. That was his average attempts per game last season.
Knowing the Cowboys were facing a team they should easily handle, my focus went to big No. 10 during this one. He needed to have a big outing.
In the first half, Thompson played just seven minutes. He went 4-of-5 from the field, all 3-pointers, to finish with 12 first-half points.
He added one more in the second for a 15-point outing.
"It's very important, because we're going to get to those ball screens with him when he pops he catches the ball and sees daylight," DuSell said of Thompson's big night. He needs to have the confidence to be able to shoot the ball and knock down the shot because we have the confidence in him to do that."
Linder knows it has been a long journey back to full health for Thompson. The NCAA mandates a 21-day quarantine for mono. There's no shooting. There's no workouts. There's no rhythm.
"I mean, we've seen him do it before," Linder said. "You know, it was just good for him to see it.
"... For him, it's taking some time, but I think he's starting to make some strides."
Thompson causes all sorts of matchup problems for defenses. If he can regain the outside shooting aspect to his game, he should see plenty of open looks.
That's always been the plan.
Tonight, Thompson executed it.
Jason McManamen nailed a career-high six threes and Josh Adams added five more from deep in an 84-65 blowout victory over Utah State back in February of 2016.
Wyoming added a school-record nine more triples, finishing 20-of-38 from beyond the arc -- Aka Gorski (3), Jeremy Lieberman (2), Hayden Dalton (2), Trey Washington (1) and Al Herndon (1).
Tonight in Laramie, the Cowboys had 15 under their belt by halftime. They finished with 28, which broke a school record and tied Troy for the most ever in an NCAA game.
You already know what Jeffries, DuSell and Thompson did. Noah Reynolds chipped in with two triples. Brenden Wenzel and John Grigsby each added one.
Linder was excited about all of them, but pointed to the 2-for-2 night Ike had behind the arc.
"It was good for Graham to see, because he makes a lot of threes in practice," Linder said. "He spends a lot of time at 7 a.m. -- if anybody comes around and wants to walk around the Double-A -- man they know the one guy that's in there at 7 a.m. is Graham Ike and he's working on that three shot between the slots.
"For him to see that go in, that's big because now teams will have to decide, 'OK, what are you going do?' We have that inside presence with Graham and then you're having to prepare for Thompson at the five -- that's hard to deal with."
The 6-foot-9 freshman had never hit a three in a collegiate game on four attempts.
Wyoming was just 27-of-80 from behind the 3-point line entering Friday night. That ranked the Cowboys 173rd out of 350 Division-I programs.
That won't be the case anymore.
"It's hard to make 28 threes," Linder added. "It's hard for people to just go into the gym by themselves and make 28-of-54. That's really hard to do. Then you actually have to do it in the game, with the crowd and with the defense. That's a pretty good mark."
If this Jeffries shows up. If this Thompson and DuSell shows up. If Ike can add a triple here and there, look out.
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