LARAMIE – If Saturday night’s game was considered a fight, the University of Wyoming threw the first punch.
UW came out aggressive on both ends of the floor and kept pace with Oregon State.
The problem was the second half when the Beavers punched back and then piled on during an 83-63 victory in front of 4,339 at Arena-Auditorium.
“In the second half, they kind of hit us in the mouth,” UW redshirt sophomore guard Hunter Maldonado said. “We’ve got to be the ones throwing that first punch in the second half.”
By not carrying over the aggressive play they showed in the first half to the second half, the Cowboys (1-3 overall) dug themselves into an even deeper hole. What was a seven-point game at halftime turned in a rout.
Those same shooting woes that have plagued the Cowboys over their past two games threatened to derail them in the first half, but a late push kept them within striking distance.
UW missed its first six 3-pointers and, at one point, was 3 of 11 from the field during the first 9 minutes and change of the game. Oregon State took full advantage. The Beavers opened a 15-8 lead after consecutive 3s from Gianni Hunt and Tres Tinkle. Hunt was 3 of 4 from beyond the arc in the first half, and his third long-range jumper pushed the visitors’ lead to 20-11.
Maldonado went nearly 14 minutes without a field goal, though he sank all six of his free throws. The 6-foot-7, 200-pounder warmed up in the final minutes of the half. He made his first bucket to cut the deficit to 25-20 with 6:53 remaining in the half. Maldonado finished with a team-best 18 points before fouling out late in the second half. Sophomore Pine Bluffs native Hunter Thompson drained a 3 to make it 28-27 Oregon State lead.
The Beavers got a boost of momentum when freshman Jarod Lucas swished a 3 at the buzzer to give his club a 40-33 advantage at the break.
“They’re a really good offensive team with multiple pieces that are able to score the basketball,” fourth-year UW coach Allen Edwards said. “... our guys came out with the right energy in the first half. Obviously, we tried some things to hold (Tres) Tinkle, particularly Tinkle, from having a big night, and I thought our guys did a good job with the game plan.”
Tinkle, who was named Pac-12 player of the week after averaging a double-double with 26 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, was held to just 16 points and nine boards.
But Oregon State’s best player wasn’t the difference in the game. He didn’t need to be.
After controlling the paint in the first half, the Cowboys got outscored 20-10 in that area in the second half. Part of that was because of Oregon State’s potent shooters from beyond the arc. The Beavers shot 42.9% (6 of 14) from long range in the first half and ended the game at a 36.4% clip.
The decision came down to whether Edwards wanted his defenders to “blitz” Oregon State’s 3-point shooters or play it out and see what happens.
“We were helping off some of their guys, particularly (junior Alfred Hollins),” the coach said. “We didn’t necessarily want to go full blitz because we thought he did a great job moving without the basketball, and I respected Tinkle’s basketball I.Q. to be able to not get panicked and still be able to find people.
“But I thought we could’ve been a little more aggressive, especially in the second half. We wouldn’t want Thompson just to play one-on-one basketball down low. And I thought it got to that a little bit. Sometimes it was personnel of who they had on the floor that the 3-ball was falling for them, too.”
The most damaging part of the Cowboys’ game was shooting the ball. UW did shoot 41.7% for the game, but it converted just 20.8% (5 of 24) of its attempts from 3-point land.
“It affected us because who was missing the shots,” Edwards added.
He then pointed to Thompson and senior Jake Hendricks. Thompson was 2 of 7 and Hendrix was 1 of 6 from deep.
“Is it a problem? Yes,” Edwards said. “Is it something you fix overnight? I don’t know.”
If anything, the Cowboys plan to use Saturday’s game as a teaching point before they host Detroit Mercy at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
The first lesson from the loss? Delivering the second punch.
“It puts stuff into perspective about how if we come out and throw the first punch, whether that be at the start of the game or at halftime, how much that can affect the team and the energy moving forward,” said UW senior A.J. Banks, who posted 10 points. “It’s important to note, swallow it at the same time but keep in mind that we had a chance.
“We gave ourselves a chance with the way we came out. We’ve got to work on doing that at the start of the game and the start of the second half as well.”
Tyler Poslosky is a writer for WyoSports. He can be reached at 307-633-3123 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @TylerPoslosky.