LARAMIE – If Wednesday night was a game of contrasts, consider the University of Wyoming’s defense in overtime a perfect foil to what things looked like during the second half.
In a wild 83-74 win over New Mexico, the Cowboys (11-9 overall, 5-8 Mountain West) were streaky on offense, shooting 33%, 46% and 67% in the first and second halves and overtime, respectively. But that inconsistency was also apparent on the defensive end.
The Lobos (5-12, 1-12) were 16-of-25 shooting in the second half Wednesday, a scorching 64% from the field with the large majority of those coming at or around the basket. After forcing nine turnovers in the first half, UW was only able to come up with four in the second period.
Seemingly everything New Mexico shot found the bottom of the net following halftime. That is until all the chips were on the table in overtime when things mattered most.
The Cowboys suffocated the Lobos in the game final 5 minutes of play, allowing just a single field goal on nine tries. After hitting a series of big 3-pointers in the second half, including one from Javonte Johnson that sent the game to overtime, the Lobos were 0-of-4 shooting from deep in the extra period.
The difference? Well, UW got its collective hands up. No more easy looks for New Mexico. No more uncontested layups. And most importantly, no open 3-pointers.
“I think the biggest thing was making them take contested, tough shots, and most of those were contested, tough 2s. They ended up getting a lot of pull-up 2s,” said assistant coach Ken DeWeese, who finished the game as acting head coach when Jeff Linder was ejected late in the first half.
New Mexico’s leading scorer, Makuach Maluach, scored 11 of his team-high 17 points in the second half, all of his shot attempts coming inside the arc. Isaiah Marin also scored 11 points in the second half, making all three field goal tries from deep.
The two were a combined 0-for-6 in overtime, though, with just two 3-point attempts combined between them. UW outscored New Mexico 12-3 in overtime, a stark contrast from the defensive effort that had plagued the Cowboys just minutes prior.
The emphasis was to make all field goal tries tough and to limit shot attempts from beyond the arc. That mission was accomplished, to say the least.
“The guys that we wanted to get the open looks, shrinking off of, those were the guys that ended up taking those shots,” DeWeese said. “And sometimes, guys just miss shots. I mean, we were that way in the first half, especially early. We had a lot of great looks and couldn’t knock them down.”
Wednesday night’s thrilling win came on the heels of a four-game losing streak for the Cowboys, matchups they lost to San Diego State and Colorado State. While the games against the Rams were close, the Cowboys fell at Viejas Arena by an average of 28.5 points.
The Pokes needed to get back in the win column in the worst possible way, and to win in such a fashion as they did was a big moment for a young team searching for its identity as the conference tournament approaches.
The effort in the second half and into overtime is exactly the type of thing DeWeese and the rest of the coaching staff want to see this time of year. After all, there’s no better time to play well than at the end of the season.
“Ultimately, it was just a little more level of competition, a little bit more grit and a little bit more effort,” DeWeese said.