Tuck’s 10 takes: Ike dominates Lobos in second frame
LARAMIE -- The real Derrick Henry didn't get it done today in his return to action in the NFL playoffs.
Former Wyoming linebacker Logan Wilson had plenty to do with that.
On the court inside the Arena-Auditorium Saturday evening, Jeff Linder's bell cow -- Graham Ike -- did finish the job, brutalizing New Mexico in the paint to the tune of 18 second-half points in a too-close-for-comfort 93-91 victory over the visiting Lobos.
Ike finished with a game-high 29 points and 15 assists.
Wyoming is now 15-2 overall and 4-0 in Mountain West Conference play. The last time a Cowboy team started league play with that record was back in 2014-15. That season culminated with a trip to Seattle and an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Linder often compares his 6-foot-9 forward to the Tennessee Titans running back.
He's big. He's powerful. He wears opponents down. He breaks wills.
"You know, I take a lot of pride in it," Ike said of closing out games. "It's just like, how much are you willing to do to win? What is your will to win? This team's want to win is very big."
Ike, after missing UW's last game with a sore right knee, did all of that and more in this one as the Cowboys moved to 8-0 at home this season. The Colorado product banged away under the bucket, made tough turn-around shots and rocked the rim twice during the Cowboys' eighth win of the season inside this building.
Ike also planted himself at the line -- and made his shots -- connecting on 11-of-13 free throws to ice it. Ike draws more fouls per 40 minutes than any other player in the country. That's an average of nine per outing.
"Good players make good coaches," Linder joked. "You have a guy like him who, you can just put the ball in his hands, there are so few players in the country that have the ability to score with their pack to the basket and also have the ability to pass it out of the double team and create easy shots. He's a special player and continues to show that."
New Mexico, which is now 0-6 in conference play, didn't make it easy. Led by Jay Allen-Tovar's 25-point performance and an additional 22 from Jamal Mashburn Jr., the Lobos made this a one-possession game with just 12.5 ticks remaining on the clock.
Drake Jeffries, partially trapped in the corner, attempted a long pass right down the middle of the court. Mashburn easily picked it off and made his way up the court in a hurry with a tie game in mind.
Hunter Maldonado had other ideas.
Wyoming's redshirt junior planted himself at the top of the key and took the charge, sending the nearly 6,000 in the dome into a frenzy. The call sent UNM head coach Richard Pitino into a rage, drawing the ire -- and a technical foul -- from officials.
Jeffries hit one free throw and added two more on the Cowboys next possession to give the home team a 92-87 lead.
Jaelen House sank a triple at the buzzer, but it wasn't enough.
Here are some observations from the Cowboys 15th win of the season:
* There was more activity and excitement happening at the graveyard across Willett Drive two years ago than there was inside this building. Saturday evening, roughly 5,400 fans took Linder's word that the Arena-Auditorium is now the place to be. Clad in gold, this place once again sounded like one of the premier atmospheres in the Mountain West Conference. From babies crawling across the court at halftime to pregame introductions to a video of Wilson's interception in Nashville shown on the jumbotron, the deafening Dome of Doom is slowly starting to gain its rowdy reputation back. It can only get better, too. Maldonado, who finished with 25 points and seven assists, was a mainstay during some of those down times. "It's fun," he said. "I think my freshman year was the last time I saw a crowd that big ... Just to see the turnaround and all these fans come and support us is something I like to see, obviously. It's super fun to have. It makes me feel good, definitely."
* Wyoming is taking care of business at home. The Cowboys are now 8-0 on the season. Here's another impressive streak: Linder's bunch is now 14-0 when scoring 70-plus points this year. This team can score in bunches, especially when it's getting production from nearly the entire lineup like it did Saturday.
* You know how Wyoming often gets hit with the moniker "team you don't want to face in the conference tourney?" That title should now belong to New Mexico. That looked anything but a team that entered this game winless in Mountain West play at 0-5 and dead last in the conference. The Lobos connected on nearly 66% of their shots in the second half and made this one interesting to the very end. Luckily for UW, it shot 73% over the final 20 minutes. We all know that's a prideful UNM program. They won't be down for long. The rematch in this one is set for Feb. 15 inside The Pit in Albuquerque. "If you really watch New Mexico -- especially in the conference games -- other than the game at UNLV, they've played everybody tough in this league," Linder said. "That was the same game that Colorado State just had to play the other night."
* Brendan Wenzel did his best Drake Jeffries impression in the first half, sinking a career-high four triples. Jeffries added three himself. Linder said the 6-foot-7 guard from San Antonio is just taking advantage of his opportunity with Xavier DuSell still on the shelf with a strained hamstring. "He's a guy that I've always said, from a skill standpoint, he's a guy that can help us in a lot of different ways," Linder said. "You know, sometimes not until you get your feet really wet and you get those the real minutes to where you're not playing tentative, I think now, over the course of the last three games he's had no choice ... You can't be hesitant. You know, I thought the first half he did a really good job and was making them pay." Wenzel finished with 13 points.
* Allen-Tovar was a monster in this one. The Lobos' 6-foot-9 junior forward was 5-for-5 from the field to start this one and finished with a team-high 25 points. No matter who was on him -- Jeremiah Oden, Hunter Thompson, Maldonado, Jeffries -- Allen-Tovar was making light work of the Cowboys. He played 38 minutes and connected on 10-of-14 shots in the loss. The big man added four triples, too. He also became public enemy No. 1 after chirping at the UW student section. He was impressive.
* Ike had a front-row seat to Wyoming's 84-69 victory over San Jose State last Wednesday night. Sitting because of knee soreness, the freshman watched from the bench. So, what his assessment of this UW team? "What I really thought is just how fun this team is to watch and really play with," he said. "I love this group of guys. We have a great group of guys, and just to compete with these guys from an everyday basis, It's really like living a dream for me. So, you know, we just keep on winning -- just keep on having a great time." Ike is seeing the same thing you are -- this team is fun to watch.
* The Cowboys, on average, allow just 64 points per game. The Lobos raced right passed that number Saturday on the high plains. Linder eluded to New Mexico's speed and quickness. Let's be real though -- they made plenty of tough shots. "I think they got downhill really well," Maldonado said. "Obviously we have to go back and look at the tape and find ways to kind of prevent them from doing what they do so well. But credit to them. I think they shot what 53% for the game? At the end of the day, they were tough and credit to them for finishing, but we found a way to win."
* There is just a four-game difference in this overall series between the Pokes and Lobos, a rivalry that dates back to 1950. New Mexico now holds a slight 75-71 advantage. Wyoming has a winning record against six of its Mountain West foes: UNLV (78-41), Utah State (52-33), SJSU (19-2), Air Force (80-41), Nevada (18-9) and Border War rival, Colorado State (136-100). The Cowboys trail Boise State (19-14), San Diego State (47-41), Fresno State (21-12) and New Mexico.
* Circle Tuesday night on your calendar. Linder certainly has. Wyoming's second-year head coach will make his return to ExtraMile Arena in Boise to face off with his former boss at 7 p.m. These two teams were already scheduled to meet this season. COVID-19 axed that one in Laramie back on New Year's Day just 30 minutes before tipoff. Make no mistake, this is a big one for Linder. It's big for this UW program, too. The Pokes and Broncos, along with San Diego State, are the only unbeatens in league play. Linder is 11-5 in road games since arriving in Laramie. This would arguably be the biggest feather in his cap.
* Wyoming scoring leaders: Ike 29, Maldonado 25, Jeffries 14, Wenzel 13, Oden 6, Noah Reynolds 6