LARAMIE – Consider the cliché monkey on the back of the University of Wyoming men’s basketball team removed.
Trailing by five points on the road with just over six minutes left in regulation Saturday afternoon, the Cowboys finished their game against San Jose State on a 13-3 run, highlighted by senior guard A.J. Banks’ go-ahead floater with less than four minutes to play. UW surged past San Jose State 71-66 to snap an eight-game losing streak and earn its first Mountain West Conference win of the season.
With the victory, UW avoids being the second team in MW history to go winless in conference play (San Jose State in 2014-15).
“(Last night, I asked the team), ‘By a show of hands, who is going in expecting to win the basketball game?’ Every hand went up. I wanted to ask them why, because this wasn’t just going to happen,” UW coach Allen Edwards said in his postgame radio interview. “Some of the things that we’ve been beaten on Day 1, we did a great job ... we played team basketball ... I thought it was just a good team effort.”
Redshirt sophomore guard Hunter Maldonado scored 13 of his team-high 19 points in the second half. After shooting just 40% from the field and 1 of 15 from behind the 3-point line in the first half, the Cowboys shot nearly 55% from the field in the second. UW was manhandled inside in its last game against Utah State but was dominant down low Saturday, outscoring the Spartans 40-14 in the paint.
Trailing 27-26 at halftime, UW used an 11-0 run early in the second to take a nine-point lead. San Jose State responded with a 9-0 run of its own, setting the stage for a roller-coaster ending. UW trailed by three with just over 4 minutes left but took a lead it didn’t relinquish behind Banks, who scored four straight points, including his go-ahead floater. Up 66-64 with 19 seconds to play, sophomore guard Greg Milton III hit a game-sealing 3-pointer from the corner. Milton finished with 12 points on 5 of 8 shooting. Five UW players finished in double-digit scoring, including freshman guard Kwane Marble II, who scored 12 points in the first start of his career. Banks finished with 11 points, five rebounds and five assists.
“A.J. just dug in (defensively),” Edwards said. “And he also helped us on the offensive end.”
During their eight-game losing streak, the Cowboys’ second-half efforts didn’t match up with what were often strong opening periods. On Saturday, UW put together a full game by not letting a bad start offensively ruin what it did defensively.
The Cowboys forced 14 turnovers on Saturday, had nine steals and scored 22 points off of those turnovers.
“I thought it was great (we defended well early) because we couldn’t make a shot in the first half,” Edwards said. “Unlike previous games, that could have affected us on the defensive end of the floor, and I thought it did not (Saturday).”
UW held SJSU without a field goal the final 6 minutes of play, and to just 37% shooting from the field overall.
The Cowboys also played Tuesday night, but the score was not available as of press time.