Tucker’s 10 takes: Ike sinks Aggies with 3.3 remaining
LOGAN, Utah -- There was a white sign with blue lettering in the front row of the Utah State student section tonight.
It read: "Name two people from Wyoming."
Here's a couple: Graham Ike and Hunter Maldonado.
While that duo may not be natives of the Cowboy State, they do wear Wyoming across their chests. They also wore out the Aggies tonight, combining for 44 points in a 71-69 win in front of 10,000-plus inside Dee Glen Smith Spectrum in Logan.
With 20 ticks remaining, Maldonado, who netted 21 points, including a 12-0 run by himself late in the second half, lobbed the ball to the top of the key and into the waiting arms of Ike. He took a step to his left, dribbled on the outskirts of the lane passed Trevin Dorius and kissed a layup off the glass with his left hand with 3.3 to go.
A Rylan Jones' heave at the buzzer was off target and the Pokes (12-2, 1-0) snapped a six-game losing streak to the defending Mountain West Champions.
Ike drained a game-high 23 points in the Cowboys first game in 21 days. Drake Jeffries added 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting from behind the arc and Jeremiah Oden chipped in with 11.
So, why did Jeff Linder make that final play call?
It was an easy decision.
"You put the ball in the guy's hands who goes and makes plays," Wyoming's second-year head coach said. "You know, right there, I felt like Maldo was probably a little gassed. Graham is as good an offensive player that there is in the country. So, sometimes you know you can over-coach and try to be tricky in those situations. We just wanted to get the ball to Graham there. We knew we had a shooter in the opposite corner, we knew they weren't going to help. Graham just did what he did and went and made a play."
Not too shabby for an undermanned team that had just one full practice together over the last 20-plus days, huh?
Here are some other takeaways from tonight's victory in Logan:
* Linder didn't know the severity of the injury to freshman guard Xavier DuSell, who went down on the Aggies' final offensive possession of the night. DuSell hit the floor and had to be helped into the locker room. "Hopefully it's nothing too serious," Linder said. "But if that's the case, you know, the next man is going to have to step up."
* Wyoming was not at full strength for this one. Guards Kenny Foster and Noah Reynolds did not make the trip to Logan, still dealing with the effects of an extended COVID-19 pause that ripped through the Cowboys roster over the last three weeks.
* Rust? What rust? Wyoming jumped out to an 18-8 lead thanks to a trio of triples from Jeffries, Oden and Maldonado. Did that shock the head coach? "I was surprised a little bit by how we came out," Linder said. "But for us to finish that game -- I knew we had some guys were running on empty and I knew we had some guys who were running on empty -- I didn't want Graham to be on the bench in foul trouble. But, probably, that helped because he was there at the end and he had fresh legs when he went and made that play to finish the game."
* Linder often talks about making "winning plays." Just turn on the film of Maldonado and you will see plenty of those. The redshirt junior chucked up an air ball late in the first half. He didn't sulk. Instead, he hustled to the other end of the court and took a charge. Two possessions later, he did it again. Only this time his patience paid off in the paint as he outmaneuvered a pair of Aggies to lay in a bucket and give the Cowboys a 28-23 lead. Jeffries also added another in the first half, chasing down Justin Bean who was going in all alone for the jam. The junior guard swatted it away at the last second.
* Ike is typically a mild-mannered guy. After sinking a jumper with 4:15 remaining in the first half, the 6-foot-9 freshman turned toward the Utah State bench and said the magic words. He was hit with a technical foul. Ike got hit with a tech in just his second-career game last season against Nevada. Linder said don't let the big smile and calm demeanor fool you. "He's got a mean streak in him when he's on the court," Linder said last February.
* Speaking of Ike. The late comeback and eventual game-winning shot wouldn't have been possible without a pair of clutch free throws from the big man with 1:16 remaining. To make things even sweeter, Ike, who is a 66.3% free throw shooter through 14 games, hit both in front of a raucous student section to tie the game at 67-67.
* Bean came into this game the second-leading scorer in the Mountain West behind only Colorado State's David Roddy (19.8 ppg) and Fresno State's Orlando Robinson (19.8). Bean averages 19.6 points per game on 63% shooting. Tonight, once again, the senior netted 19. The Cowboys may have not shut him down, but you can't say the same for Steven Ashworth and Brandon Horvath, who combined for four points. Horvath, the Aggies second-leading scorer with 13 points per game, scored all four of those on just 2-of-9 shooting. Utah State, as a team, hit just 40.6% of its shots in the loss, including going 6-of-26 from deep.
* If you look at a few key stats -- rebounding, turnovers, steals and bench points -- you might think the Cowboys lost this one. Utah State held a 32-31 advantage on the boards and won the turnover battle, 14-8. The Aggies (10-7, 1-3) also stole the ball nine times compared to just three for Linder's squad. The home team added 12 points from the reserves. Wyoming didn't get a single point off the bench.
* Wyoming has played just four games over the past 40 days. COVID-19, along with finals, made this the team's first game of 2022. This senior-less team has faced plenty of adversity, but arguably none bigger than it did tonight. The Spectrum is one of the toughest venues in the league, if not the country. The Cowboys had every excuse at the ready if they fell in this one. Instead, they closed it out -- again. Just like they did at Grand Canyon, Washington, Cal State Fullerton and again in Hawaii against Northern Iowa. "That's why you play the non-conference schedule that we played in and going on the road and having to play in hostile environments," Linder said. "... When you can play inside out, and then, what sometimes gets lost, is how well this team's defending. I mean, field-goal percentage defense -- I think, coming into this game, we were 12th in the country -- we held one of the best offensive teams in the country tonight to 40%. That's how you win games on the road."
* Wyoming scoring: Ike 23, Maldonado 21, Jeffries 14, Oden 11, DuSell 2