* University of Wyoming press release

LARAMIE -- The Wyoming Cowboys fended off the defending Southland Conference regular season champion Nicholls by a score of 79-68 thanks to a career-high 20 points by guard Brendan Wenzel on Thursday evening in the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie. Wyoming used a 15-0 run in the first half on their way to the win.

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“It was hard to get in an offensive rhythm tonight,” UW head coach Jeff Linder said.  “We’re trying to figure out how to play without Graham (Ike) and we had JO (Jeremiah Oden) out tonight. We had (Brendan) Wenzel back, but then we had Noah (Reynolds) cramping up. You just have to adjust to the game. They (Nicholls) get up into you.  There were moments when we were really good in terms of breaking through their pressure. Overall it’s one of those games where you’re not going to see a lot of games like that, but this type of game prepares you for when you’ve got to go play a team that is a little bit bigger, a little bit more athletic who is going to pressure you. You have to have a better plan and that starts with me.”

Wenzel hit a career-high five threes in the contest and shot 50 percent from the field and from behind the arc. He also added four rebounds. Forward Max Agbonkpolo added 11 points and tied for the team-high with eight rebounds. Guard Hunter Maldonado added 12 points to go along with six rebounds and six assists. Forward Hunter Thompson chipped in with nine points and eight rebounds and a career-high four assists.

“I thought (Hunter) Thompson did a tremendous job in the first half,” Linder said. “Even in the second half, he played well, he just didn’t make shots. I also thought (Brendan) Wenzel, even for the length of time that he’s been off, tonight was the Wenzel that we saw all summer and this fall.”

The Cowboys dominated the glass in the contest holding a 45-31 advantage including 14 offensive rebounds. Nicholls shot 42 percent from the field with the Pokes shooting 42 percent as well. Wyoming did hit 10 threes in the contest and held the Colonels to seven on the night.

After a slow start with a pair of offensive fouls the Pokes got out to a 5-3 lead on a three-pointer from Thompson and layup from Reynolds. The Pokes would go scoreless for over three and a half minutes, as Nicholls took an 8-5 lead six minutes in. But Cowboys answered with a Reynolds layup and Wenzel three-pointer for a 10-8 lead with 13:14 left in the first frame.

The Pokes would then add 10 more points with five from Agbonkpolo, and a three from Wenzel and layup from Thompson for a 15-0 run to make it a 20-8 contest with just under 10 minutes remaining in the first frame.

The Colonels would cut the lead to seven, but the Pokes would push the lead back to 11 points at 24-13 with four-straight free throws with 7:30 left in the frame. The Colonels would go on 10-0 run over ninety seconds to make it a 26-23 game with 4:39 left in the opening twenty minutes.

The Pokes would push the lead to 36-26 with just under two minutes left in the half, as UW held the Colonels scoreless for nearly three minutes. Wenzel hit another triple to fuel the Pokes on the run. Nicholls added a bucket to make it a 36-28 game for the Pokes heading into the break.

The Cowboys got off to a slow start in the second frame but built the lead to 40-30 holding the Colonels scoreless for nearly four minutes. The Colonels hit a triple to make it a 40-33 game with 15:49 left in the contest.

Wyoming used the free throw line to build a 47-35 lead with under 15 minutes left in the contest. Guard Jake Kyman would push the lead to 13 points at 52-39 with his first triple of the contest. He added another three for a 55-39 lead with the Pokes holding the Colonels scoreless for nearly three minutes halfway through the half.

The Colonels went on a 7-0 run to make it a 57-49 game with nine minutes left in the contest. But Wenzel would hit his career-high fifth triple for a 65-52 lead with just over seven minutes remaining. But the Colonels would not go away making 66-57 game with 5:32 remaining.

Maldonado would get the Cowboy lead to 13 points at the free throw line with 3:49 left for a 73-60 contest. Manny Littles would help the Colonels make it an eight points game at 74-66 with 99 seconds remaining with a pair of free throws.

Guard Ethan Anderson would hit a tough layup and Maldonado added a pair of freebies for a 78-66 lead for the Pokes in the closing minute. Nicholls would try to fight back late, but the Pokes would hold on for the 79-68 win.

Nicholls was led by Micah Thomas with 22 points, as he was 9-of-12 from the field. Marek Nelson added 18 points with 14 points in the first half.

The Cowboys return to action on Sunday hosting Southeastern Louisiana at 2 p.m. in the Arena-Auditorium in a contest on the Mountain West Network.

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