MWC Men: Red Hot James, Cowboys Burn Spartans
By Justin Michael
on Twitter @JustinTMichael.
LAS VEGAS- Cowboys guard Justin James was a man on a mission Wednesday. Fresh off of earning All-Mountain West honors, the junior from Port Saint Lucie, Fla. was simply too much for the eleventh-seeded San Jose State Spartans to handle, as the hot-handed Cowboys beat them down 74-61 at the Thomas and Mack Arena.
Following the victory, head coach Allen Edwards explained that the team went into the game with the mindset of setting the tone during the first four minutes.
“I thought our guys did a great job of doing that and because of it, we built the lead and gave ourselves an opportunity to rest some guys heading into tomorrow,” Edwards said.
James led all scorers in the contest, finishing 9-9 from the field and really doing it all for the Cowboys. When it was all said and done, James totaled 24 points, four rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes of action.
. “I was just taking what the defense was giving me,” James said. “My teammates trust me to take and make shots. Thankfully I did.”
What was particularly impressive about James’ performance was the junior guard was able to contribute in all facets of the offense. He shot the ball well from distance, hitting all three of his 3-point attempts. He was a perfect 3-of-3 from the charity stripe and he distributed the ball to open teammates when it was conducive to the offense.
“I was getting nice open looks but there were moments when I would drive, and the defense would collapse so I’d kick it out so that other players could get open looks. We played a good all around game and we will be ready for tomorrow,” James said.
“Getting ready for the tournament, I had a good sit-down with J.J., and I actually wanted to play him a little more at the point so that he could have a little bit more of a Magic Johnson mentality vs. a Michael Jordan mentality,” Edwards added.
While James certainly led the way for the Cowboys, he was not the only Cowboy to finish in double-digits. Alan Herndon had an efficient outing as well, adding 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting.
And after getting off to a slow start, only making two of his first 10 field goal attempts, senior forward Hayden Dalton added 10 points as well.
“I thought he was rushing and trying to will his shots,” Edwards said. “I told him that he’s one of his scorers so it’s not like I am going to sit up there and tell him not to shoot. Just let it come to you.”
Following the dominant victory over the Spartans, No. 6 Cowboys will square off with New Mexico Thursday night.
The No. 3 Lobos received a bye in the first round, but they won each of the two regular season meetings. Most recently, UNM defeated Wyoming 119-114 in an offensive thriller on Feb. 20.
While the players would not admit that they had their eyes on the Lobos coming into the tournament, James did say with a smirk that the squad certainly is not upset to get another opportunity at UNM.
From the Desk of Tim Harkins
• The 13-point margin of victory for the Cowboys was the second largest in a conference tournament game in Wyoming history (either MW or WAC). The all-time high was a 15-point victory (73-58) over San Diego State in the quarterfinals of the 2001 MW Tournament.
• Allen Edwards became the first Cowboy head coach to win 20 games in his first two seasons at Wyoming. The Cowboys are now 20-12 for the 2017-18 season. Wyoming ended the 2016-17 season with a 24-15 record. Former Wyoming head coach Larry Shyatt won 20 games in the 2011-12 (21-12 record) and 2012-13 (20-14 record) seasons when he returned to Wyoming, but Shyatt’s first official season as head coach of the Cowboys was in 1997-98 when he guided the Pokes to a 19-9 record.
• The Wyoming Cowboys are now 12-17 all-time in Mountain West Tournament games.
• Wyoming got off to an outstanding start in the win. At the first media timeout of the game, the Pokes were shooting 77.8 percent (7 of 9) from the field and 66.7 percent from three (2 of 3).
• Wyoming had 20 assists on 29 made field goals for the game.
• Wyoming has made double-digit three-point field goals in 5 of its last 6 games and has made 72 total threes during that stretch.
• Justin James scored 24 points and was perfect shooting the basketball on the night. James converted 9 of 9 field goals, was 3 of 3 from three and was 3 for 3 from the free-throw line. He scored 20 of the Cowboys 40 first-half points. His previous high was 17 in the first half at Nevada earlier this season. It was the 15th time this year and 27th time in his career that James scored 20 or more points in a game.
• The last Cowboys to be perfect from the field in a game were current Cowboy Jordan Naughton, who was 9 of 9 against Western State on Nov. 11, 2016, and Uche NsonwuAmadi, who was 9 for 9 against New Mexico in 2001.
• Alan Herndon became Wyoming’s career leader in games played on Wednesday when he played in his 132nd career game. He broke a tie with Cowboy Hall of Famer Eric Leckner.