LARAMIE — It wouldn’t be a Border War without a game-winning shot.
With the game tied 57-57 and 2.6 seconds left on the clock, University of Wyoming guard Noah Reynolds went up for a layup and was fouled by Colorado State’s Jalen Lake to go to the free-throw line. With the Cowboys’ largest home crowd all season behind him, Reynolds sank the first free throw to put UW up 58-57.
Reynolds missed the second attempt to give CSU one final shot to win the game. After a Rams’ timeout, CSU turned the ball over on a near full-court pass to give the Cowboys their first conference win of the season Saturday afternoon at the Arena-Auditorium.
“A Border War never disappoints, and it ages you in dog years every time you play one,” UW coach Jeff Linder said. “In the three years that I’ve been here, that’s five games in a row now that have come down to literally the last possession.”
The first installment of this year’s Border War rivalry series between UW and CSU probably shouldn’t have come down to the final shot, but it did. The Cowboys led by as many as 16 points early in the second half, then the Rams put together a 15-0 run that included a nearly nine-minute scoring drought for UW.
The Cowboys went on a 14-2 run near the end of the first half to build a 35-21 lead at halftime, but the Rams answered with an 8-0 run to start the second half, partly due to four turnovers and four fouls from UW. Both offenses struggled until CSU exploded for 15 straight points midway through the second half.
The Rams tied the game 45-45 with 6 minutes, 40 seconds left and took their first lead since the opening minutes of the first half less than a minute later. The two teams traded baskets up until the final minute, before Reynolds was able to break the tie and eventually win the game at the free-throw line.
“I had a been in a similar position like that at Santa Clara, and I believe I made a turnover by throwing it out of bounds,” Reynolds said. “I knew, once I was in that position again, if I had control to take over the game and to secure a win that I’d make sure I’d get that done. I felt comfortable the second time around.
“Coach knows, I want those situations. I want the ball in my hands. He just said, ‘Go make a play,’ and put me in a good position.”
The Cowboys welcomed back some much-needed reinforcements to the lineup against CSU after dealing with injuries to five key players in a 82-74 loss to Air Force on Tuesday. Hunter Thompson (mononucleosis) and Hunter Maldonado (ribs) both returned to the starting lineup.
Thompson and Maldonado joined Ethan Anderson, Xavier DuSell and Reynolds in the starting five, which was UW’s 14th different starting lineup in 19 games. That mark is the highest in the entire country, according to UW.
Maldonado made a big impact in his return to the lineup, playing over 36 minutes and helping clamp the Rams down on defense. DuSell had the toughest defensive assignment but prevailed, holding CSU’s leading scorer, Isaiah Stevens, to 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting.
UW’s defense played a big part in the win, holding the Rams to just 21 points in the first half and a 44.9% shooting mark for the game.
“It wasn’t pretty, but if the effort’s right, it gives you a pretty good chance,” Linder said. “I thought our effort, over the course of the 40 minutes, was probably the best all year.”
Another big factor in the win was the atmosphere inside the Arena-Auditorium. The Border War had an announced attendance of 6,968, the biggest crowd the Cowboys have seen at home all season.
“I think it was huge, just in terms of giving us that extra little boost and making the other team feel that energy as well,” Maldonado said. “Coming to support us, I think it’s a big thing. Obviously, it was great to see.”
Reynolds led the Cowboys with 17 points, followed by Anderson with 13 and DuSell with nine. UW lost the rebounding battle at 38-29, but forced 18 turnovers by the Rams on defense to make up the difference.
“We needed a spark,” Linder said. “We’re 1-0 now, we can enjoy that and build off of this one. It’s been a long time, I’m not sure how long it’s been, since we’ve won a game. It’s a good feeling. It’s a good feeling for those guys.”
The Cowboys’ first conference win of the season snapped an eight-game losing streak, but it didn’t come easy. Seeing a 16-point little disintegrate into thin air was deflating, but UW was able to recuperate in time to survive with a one-point win, Maldonado said.
“Stay the course,” Maldonado said. “Obviously, that’s happened a couple times this season. We’re trying to take something from each game and learn from it. This game and kind of just taking all of those games in the past and applying those lessons to this one, it was about finding a way to get a stop and getting a couple kills at the end of the game to find a way to finish.”
The win pushed the Cowboys to 6-13 overall and 1-6 in the Mountain West. CSU fell to 10-11 and 2-6.
The Cowboys will return to the court for a road game with UNLV (12-6, 1-5) this week. The Rebels will host UW at 9 p.m. Tuesday in Nevada.
WYOMING 58, COLORADO STATE 57
Colorado State: Cartier 5-11 3-4 13, Tonje 3-8 5-6 12, Stevens 6-11 0-0 15, Lake 3-7 0-0 7, Rivera 1-3 0-0 2, Jackson 1-3 0-0 2, Moors 3-6 0-2 6. Totals: 22-49 8-12.
Wyoming: Thompson 2-6 0-0 6, Anderson 6-9 1-1 13, Reynolds 6-17 4-7 17, Maldonado 3-8 1-3 7, DuSell 3-7 0-0 9, Barnhart 2-4 0-0 4, Oden 1-6 0-0 2. Totals: 23-57 6-11.
Halftime: Wyoming 35-21. 3-pointers: CSU (Tonje 1-5, Stevens 3-4, Lake 1-4, Rivera 0-1, Jackson 0-2, Moors 0-2; UW 6-26 (Thompson 2-6, Reynolds 1-7, Maldonado 0-2, DuSell 3-7, Barnhart 0-1, Oden 0-3). Rebounds: CSU 38 (Stevens 10); UW 29 (Thompson 8). Assists: CSU 12 (Stevens 7), UW 8 (Maldonado 5); Turnovers: CSU 18 (Tonje 4), UW 10 (Anderson 3, Reynolds 3, Maldonado 3). Blocks: UW 4 (Thompson 1, Reynolds 1, Barnhart 1, Oden 1); CSU 2 (Tonje 1, Moors 1). Steals: UW 6 (Maldonado 2, DuSell 2); CSU 5 (Cartier 3). Team fouls: UW 14, CSU 14.