LAS VEGAS – The Wyoming Cowboys took top-seeded and No. 19 San Diego State to the wire in a 69-66 loss in the quarterfinals of the 2021 Air Force Reserve MW Basketball Championship. The contest featured 14 leads changes and saw the game tied 19 different times. Wyoming finishes the season with a 14-11 overall record.
“For our guys to executive the game plan on a quick turn around with such a young group you can see us getting better, but we were just one possession short,” Wyoming head coach Jeff Linder said. “We did a great job of keeping them out of the paint and making certain guys beat us, which gave us an opportunity to win. They are the benchmark of the league and it was a great test for us as a program.”
Wyoming was paced by a career-high from freshman Xavier DuSell with 21 points. He hit a career-best six threes. Junior Hunter Maldonado added 12 points, five rebounds and four assists. Freshman Marcus Williams added 12 points and a team-high five assists finishing the tournament with 15 helpers. Freshman Graham Ike added 10 points and led the team with nine rebounds. The UW freshman combined for 43 of the 66 points for 65 percent of the scoring.
The Cowboys hit 12 threes on the night shooting 48 percent from behind the arc. San Diego State shot 49 percent from the field for the afternoon and went 12-of-13 from the free throw line. Wyoming held a 28-26 advantage on the glass for the night.
Both teams got off to fast starts offensively in the opening minutes of the contest for a 9-9 game in the opening four-plus minutes. The Cowboys opened 4-of-5 from the field hitting their first four shots, as the Aztecs went 4-of-6 from the field.
The Aztecs went on a 4-0 run to take an 18-14 lead on the Pokes with 12:58 left in the opening frame. DuSell hit his third triple of the game to make it a 20-19 game for San Diego State with 8:50 left in the half and then hit his fourth just over a minute later that tied the game at 22-22.
The Cowboys took their first lead of the afternoon at 29-27 on a pair of free throws from Ike. The Aztecs would battle to take the lead back with another Pulliam jumper for a 30-29 lead with 3:17 left in the frame. The Cowboys used the free throw line to take the lead back this time with two from junior Drake Jeffries for a 32-30 game with 1:39 remaining in the opening 20 minutes.
The SDSU’s Terrell Gomez added an and-one play in the closing seconds to give the San Diego State a 33-32 lead at the half, as Wyoming went without a field goal in the final 5:17 of the first half.
After the teams’ traded three pointers to open the second half and after a Pulliam jumper, sophomore Kenny Foster knocked down a three-pointer for a 38-38 game with 18 minutes remaining. The contest would once again be tied at the free throw this time from Maldonado for a 44-44 game with 13:35 on the clock.
After the Aztecs built a three-point lead at 49-46 using a 5-2 run, DuSell knocked down his fifth three-pointer followed by a three from Foster to give Wyoming a 52-49 lead with 9:39 remaining. SDSU would take a brief lead until Williams banked in a three-pointer to give Wyoming the upper hand at 55-53 at the 7:47 mark. Gomez tied the game just over a minute later for the Aztecs and later made it a two point game with 5:42 remaining.
DuSell got to his new career-high with his sixth triple for a 58-57 lead for the Pokes at the 5:20 mark, but Schakel responded with a triple to give SDSU the lead on the following possession. Ike gave Wyoming a one point lead, but a three from Gomez made it a 63-61 game in SDSU’s favor with 2:58 remaining.
Maldonado hit a step back triple at the 1:52 mark to give Wyoming a 64-63 lead, but Gomez hit free throws for a 65-64 San Diego State lead with 90 seconds remaining. That score would hold until later with the Aztecs knocking in free throws, but the Pokes had a chance late with a bucket, but fell short 69-66.
The Aztecs were led by Gomez with 20 points going 8-of-12 from the field. Pulliam and Schakel added 15 points apiece. Schakel led the team with six rebounds.
The Cowboys did not have one senior on the roster and will return every player next season.