3 Quick takes: Excuses were in place, yet this team found a way
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., -- Even after an unplanned 11-day layoff and a weather-delayed arrival to the arena tonight, Jeff Linder only stuck around for the first 19 minutes of this one.
He'd obviously seen enough.
Eleven foul calls and the same number of New Mexico free-throw attempts had Wyoming's first-year head coach seething. A whistle on Graham Ike at the other end of the floor with one minute remaining in the first half was apparently the final straw.
Linder was hit with a pair of technical fouls -- his third and fourth of the season -- and shown the gate, ejected for the final 26 minutes of this wild back-and-forth affair that went into overtime and ended with an 83-74 Cowboy victory.
"That was kind of weird," assistant and acting head coach Ken DeWeese said postgame. "That was one of the quicker ejections I've seen in my career. It was a straight ejection, no warning."
That brief Linder tirade could've turned the tide in this one. New Mexico toed the line for four straight free throws courtesy of UW's bench boss.
But wait, there's more.
The Lobos also received two more shots on the original foul call.
They made just a pair.
Instead, Wyoming (11-9, 5-8) turned a one-point deficit into a four-point halftime lead over the final 60 seconds thanks to a Hunter Thompson triple and a Drake Jeffries lay in at the buzzer.
DeWeese joked after the game that he had never been a head coach in a real college basketball game before. Or at least the "guy who stands up." He said he leaned plenty on fellow assistants Sundance Wicks and Shaun Vandiver to guide this young team to the finish line tonight.
He did add that if he was a Wyoming basketball player right now, the passion that Linder showed on the bench tonight would have him excited.
"I would love that passion and fight," he said. "The level of competition (Linder) exhibits every day, not just in games, but in practice, leads to winning games and winning programs. If I was a player, I would love that level of competition. It's not always easy, he's demanding."
Linder wasn't the only one showing fight tonight.
The Cowboys trailed by as many as seven midway through the second half. New Mexico's length and athleticism kicked in. Buckets around the rim were dropping with relative ease. Makuach Maluach started to look way too comfortable in the paint as he netted 11 of his team-high 17 points.
Despite the Lobos runs, the Cowboys always seemed to have an answer.
Whether that was a drive to the rack by Marcus Williams, a dish from Xavier DuSell or one of Wyoming's five triples over the final 20 minutes, this pesky group refused to go away.
This one wasn't pretty, but Wyoming, for the first time in nearly a month, showed it could finish a close game -- in conference play, no less.
The Cowboys' charter bus was late to Clune Arena because of heavy snowfall in the Colorado Springs area. The whistles, yeah, they never stopped. There were 47 of them to be exact. The Lobos (5-12, 1-12) attempted 28 free throws. The Cowboys, 25.
Despite zero semblance of rhythm, this team found a way.
With its coach in the locker room, this team found a way.
Even though a four-game losing streak, coupled with an extended break because of possible COVID-19 issues at Utah State, loomed large, this team found a way.
The excuses were in place, but this team decided to go off-script.
"We shot the ball better in the second half," DeWeese said. "We got to the free-throw line a lot more. Defensively, we were able to get the right guys shooting the shots we wanted ... We had a little more grit and effort."
Wyoming 83, New Mexico 74 OT
Confidence in conference
Let's not beat around the bush here: Not much has gone right for Thompson in Mountain West play.
After drilling seven triples in a 22-point outburst on the road at Fresno State in early January, the junior from Pine Bluffs has found about as much rhythm as the game tonight had. It's been basically non-existent.
An ankle injury certainly didn't help matters. It also cost Thompson the second meeting with Boise State.
Linder always talks about the things Thompson does that doesn't necessarily end up on the final stat sheet. Like when he forced switches on defense or makes the opponent's big man leave the comfort of the paint.
Tonight, Thompson was arguably the best player on the court for the visitors. Not just because he scored 14 points off the bench either.
He hauled in five rebounds, three on the offensive end of the floor. He landed a pair of assists. DeWeese even gave him credit for sealing the deal against the Lobos in OT.
"When he took that offensive charge, that essentially ended the game," he said of Thompson. "He's in a rough patch right now but he's fighting every day and keeps coming back for more. It's about what can you do the other things when you're missing shots."
Thompson didn't miss many of those tonight either.
He hit 5 of 8 from the field and sank four three-pointers, including one in overtime as the shot clock buzzer sounded off.
"He was really excited," DeWeese said. "We were excited for him. He came up huge tonight."
Xavier DuSell started this one with a goose egg from the field. He missed all three of his shots from deep in the first half, too.
So, how did this hard-charging freshman guard finish with 14 points?
He started driving the basketball.
"We want X to be aggressive," DeWeese said. "He has great feel and vision. He can make plays but he can also make plays for other guys, as well."
DuSell glided through the paint early in the second half and scooped in a layup to get on the board. He did that again with less than 9:00 to go and again three minutes later.
With the Pokes trailing by five late, DuSell took another chance from beyond the arc. This time -- splash. He did it once more with 1:30 remaining, giving the Cowboys a brief lead late.
The freshman from Arizona saved his best drive for last.
With Wyoming up by three midway through the five-minute overtime period, the shot clock was winding down. With less than two ticks remaining, DuSell skied toward the rim and beat the buzzer.
"The way he's shooting, guys close out really hard," DeWeese added. "When he puts it on the floor he has the vision to find other guys and make the right pass. The ball will always come back and find you when you're making shots."
Wyoming and New Mexico will close out the two-game set from Colorado Springs Friday night at 7 p.m. MST.