The Cowboys opened the contest going 5-of-5 from behind the arc and never looked back in a 97-61 win over Mississippi Valley State in the season opener on Saturday afternoon in the Arena-Auditorium. It was the first game under head coach Jeff Linder as the Pokes knocked down 13 triples in the opener.
“I thought the first 20 minutes, we did a really good job and we actually came out better than I thought we would,” Linder said. “That was the first time, as a group, that we’ve actually played more than three trips up and down, the court in a long time. We just haven’t had the bodies to do that. We’ve had some guys hurt. Today, we had two guys out under the COVID protocol — I want to make that clear. They weren’t out for any type of suspension. Hopefully, we’ll have them back soon. But just proud of the effort of our guys today. The second half, we got a little tired. But we didn’t get anyone hurt, and now we have a quick turnaround, hosting Texas Southern on Monday night. They’re picked to win that league (Southwestern Athletic Conference – SWAC). They are playing Oklahoma State tonight, and they will be a lot different look than what we saw today.”
Wyoming recorded 24 assists on the night on 35 made baskets for the most in contest since having 28 against Drake on Dec. 2, 2017. It was the most points in a season opener since recording 101 against Bristol during the 2015-16 opener. It was also the most by a Cowboy coach in his first game since 113 against Denver in 1987 in Benny Dees debut.
The Cowboys shot 52 percent from the field for the night and held the Delta Devils to 37 percent from the field. Wyoming shot 37 percent from behind the arc in the contest holding MVSU to 31 percent. Wyoming owned a 41-38 advantage on the glass and scored 40 points in the paint.
Junior Hunter Thompson led the Pokes tying a career-high with 25 points. He was 5-of-7 from behind the arc and added six rebounds. Junior Drake Jeffries added 19 points and led the Pokes with eight rebounds in his debut.
“He should be playing with confidence, because he knows that if he doesn’t shoot he’s going to be taken out of the game,” Linder said. “Sometimes people want him to be something he’s not. He can get down in there (in the paint) a little bit, but he puts a lot of pressure on the opponent’s defense when you have to guard him out on the perimeter. And what you see is it allows our guards to get to the rim without a 6’10”, 6’11” guy waiting for them as a secondary defender to block shots because Hunter forces those big men to play away from the basket.”
Freshman Marcus Williams added 20 points for the Pokes and had eight assists to lead the Pokes alongside junior Hunter Maldonado and his eight. Maldonado also added 10 points and seven rebounds. Williams is the first freshman in the MW era of Cowboy basketball to score 20 points in a season opener. Also the eight assists by Williams and Maldonado were the most in a season opener since Brad Jones had eight in against UC-Colorado Springs on Nov. 10, 2007.
“I thought Marcus (Williams) did a really good job,” Linder said. “It’s hard when you’re a freshman and going out there in your first Division I game. I don’t care who you’re playing, the first time out things are a little faster. But for him, playing at the highest classification in the state of Texas and being as good as his team was — they were about to get ready to win a state championship before COVID hit — he’s used to playing against the caliber of athletes you see at the Division I level. It was really a good game for him to get the cobwebs out. J..O. (Jeremiah Oden) is going to be really good it was one of those games today where he’s going to have to learn how to pick his spots a little bit better, but you can see with his athleticism that he is going to be a guy who is going to provide winning effort and winning plays thru his athleticism.”
The Pokes got off to a an 8-0 start in the opening minute plus of the ball game with an and-one play from Oden, a triple from Thompson and a layup from Williams. After a MVSU bucket, the Pokes added a trio of triple from Jeffries, Williams and Thompson for a 17-2 advantage at the 17:31 mark of the first half.
The Pokes continued to apply pressure on the delta Devils building the lead to as much as 19 points at the 13:19 mark of the first half. Wyoming shot nearly 70 percent in the first nine minutes of the contest.
Jeffries, Williams and Thompson were the first Pokes to reach double-figures and helped build the lead to 23 points at 45-17 as part of a 16-0 run with six minutes left in the first frame.
Wyoming opened up a 57-26 lead at halftime shooting 56 percent from the field and 47 percent from behind the arc. It was the most points in an opening half since scoring 57 points on Jan. 11, 2017 against Utah State.
After a brief run by the Delta Devils Thompson went on an 8-0 run himself to make it a 65-31 lead for the Pokes at the 17:25 mark of second half. MVSU went on an 8-0 run over two minutes to make it a 67-39 game in favor of the Pokes.
The Pokes later went scoreless over two minutes as the Delta Devils made it a 72-46 game halfway through the half. But a Hunter Maldonado ended the run with a spin move and an easy layup.
But Thompson yet again led a surge and helped the Pokes build an 83-56 advantage with under five minutes remaining, as the junior tied his career-high in scoring. It was all Cowboys from there closing the game on a 14-5 run to take the opener 97-61.
Wyoming returns to action on Monday hosting SWAC favorite Texas Southern in the Arena-Auditorium at 7 p.m.