Tuck’s 10 Takes: Forgettable night won’t define improbable run
DAYTON, Ohio -- Turnovers. Rebounds.
Those are the two words you'll unfortunately remember 20 years from now when you think about the time Wyoming played Indiana in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament.
The optics weren't pretty. The stat sheet was worse. That team was beatable.
Oh, what could have been.
The Cowboys handed the Hoosiers 19 gifts -- plenty via the unforced variety -- in a 66-58 loss inside UD Arena in Dayton, Ohio. Hunter Maldonado, one of the main reasons UW heard its name called on Selection Sunday, was responsible for a career-worst 10 of those on a forgettable night in the heartland.
The former forward-turned point guard said there was a perfectly good explanation for his giving nature in this one.
"I think I tried to force it a little more than I probably should have, especially knowing that if I did slow down, we were basically scoring almost every time," Maldonado said postgame. "So, I think, just in the sense of trying to force almost making the home-run play instead of taking the singles was what led to those 10 turnovers."
Jeff Linder agreed wholeheartedly.
"I know Maldo is as disappointed as anybody with the 10 turnovers, but we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Maldonado," Wyoming's second-year head coach said.
Let's circle back to that in a minute.
The Cowboys have been one of the better rebounding teams in the nation this season on the defensive end of the floor. Tonight, they were out-boarded, 24-23. The performance on the offensive glass, well, that was downright offensive: Indiana 15, Wyoming 7.
Jordan Geronimo skied for three of those rebounds. All three culminated in thunderous put-back dunks that whipped the pro-Indiana crowd into a frenzy. The 6-foot-6 freshman, who missed the Hoosiers last game with an ankle injury, finished with 15 points off the bench and served as the perfect compliment to IU big man, Trayce Jackson-Davis, who netted a game-high 29 in the win.
"He's a freak. That's what we call him, 'freak of nature,'" Jackson-Davis said with a smile. "Sometimes, even in the huddle he'll do something and I'll look at him and say, 'you're a freak,' because some of the things he does are just out of this world. He's blessed with God-given athleticism and talent. You get to see it on display, and I think that's really cool."
It wasn't cool if you were wearing white tank tops and shorts tonight.
Despite being dominated in a number of categories -- points off turnovers (17-3), second-chance points (16-6), bench points (19-5), fast-break points (16-0) and, maybe most painful, points in the paint (46-26) -- this scrappy, young Wyoming team never trailed by more than 10.
Like they have all season, the Cowpokes just kept plugging away, whether that was Maldonado driving the lane, Graham Ike getting a few bunnies to drop or a timely triple from Hunter Thompson, as always, giving up wasn't in the cards.
Tonight, the miscues were simply too much to overcome.
Fifteen extra possessions. Nineteen empty possessions.
That's what will stick with this group -- and you -- for years to come. It was winnable. The self-inflicted wounds became insurmountable.
"In the locker room afterwards, the first thing I told them was just how excited I was," Linder said. "Even though we were obviously disappointed that we lost a game, I'm just really excited for these guys to feel what the NCAA Tournament feels like."
This team wasn't supposed to be here.
The league's media called them the eighth-best team in the Mountain West before the season started. Marcus Williams, the conference's reigning Freshman of the Year, was now sinking buckets in College Station, Texas. Who the heck is Brendan Wenzel? Noah Reynolds? Jeremiah Oden?
NCAA Tournament? Laughable.
NIT? Not likely.
CBI? Maybe -- if things fall into place.
While you will likely always remember this night was disgust and frustration -- and rightfully so -- perspective is key. Maybe after you're done shaking your head and telling the tale of the 2021-22 Cowboys, don't forget to add the part about how it was never supposed to happen in the first place.
"It added fueled fire to the fire," Ike said, referring to the slight from the pollsters. "Just with us being here, it's a great experience itself. To play on this stage is a great opportunity."
Here are some other tidbits and takeaways from the Pokes loss in Dayton:
* These offenses were downright offensive early on. Indiana started the contest 2-for-8 and connected on just 32% of its shots, including 1-for-8 from beyond the arc. Wyoming didn't fare a whole lot better. To go along with a near five-minute scoring drought, the Pokes netted just 9-of-23 shots (39%) in the first half. Luckily, four of those came from deep courtesy of Thompson (x2), Oden and Wenzel. "I thought early on we couldn't find offense and they couldn't find it," IU head coach Mike Woodson said. "I told the guys in the huddle, 'hey, it's going to be a grind -- one of those ugly games -- but we've just got to stay the course.' We did."
* In the much-anticipated matchup between the two bigs from these teams, it was Jackson-Davis who stole the show early, scoring 14 points in the first half. More importantly, the 6-foot-9 sophomore put so much pressure on Wyoming's front court that Ike picked up a pair of fouls in the first half and Thompson was hit with three. Ike finished 1-of-6 from the field over the first 20 minutes, but did finish with 17 points and shot 50%. "Trayce is a great player," Wyoming's forward said. "It was a great matchup, a great battle. Just to play against a player like that, it was a really physical battle. I had a lot of fun in that battle, honestly."
* Am I the only person on planet earth who has never seen a foul call reversed? Just when it looked like Ike picked up his third infraction of the night with 18:47 to go in the game, the officials went to the monitor. After a brief review, they switched the call and handed the foul to IU's Race Thompson instead. Wyoming went on a quick 6-0 run after that and brought the score to within one at 34-33. Weird sequence.
* Linder has been on the receiving end of a technical foul once or twice this season. Heck, he got ejected in the opening minutes of Utah State's visit to Laramie in early February. The cause? Always arguing with the guys in stripes, mainly in their handling of Graham Ike. Linder once again drew the ire of the rule enforcers tonight. Why? "I was getting after Drake (Jeffries) because Drake was putting his hands up," Linder said with a grin. "I've talked to Drake about that before, so I was yelling at Drake to, like, shut up and get down the floor. But (the official) obviously saw me being demonstrative, which was towards Drake, and he had to do what he had to do. So it's unfortunate, but it's the first time I've gotten a T for yelling at my own guy." Linder even added that he hung out on the beach with Nate Harris when the Pokes played in the Diamond Head Classic last December in Hawaii.
* Indiana, who is now 4-0 all-time against the Cowboys, has now won 12 of its 14 games against teams from the Mountain West. The Hoosiers will jet to Portland in the next 24 hours and take on the No. 5 seed St. Mary's in the opening round of the East Regional. Woodson said his staff already started preparing for the Gaels before this game. "We felt good about coming in here," he said. "So we already got them ready to go."
* How crazy was the flurry of turnovers from the Cowboys tonight? The previous high this season came just last week at the conference tournament in Las Vegas. UW turned the ball over 17 times in the victory over the Rebels. They also gave it away that many times in a home win over Colorado State and victory over Northern Iowa in Honolulu. Linder's squad averaged just 11.1 per game this season. Tonight, they had 13 at halftime.
* Xavier DuSell didn't attempt a shot until there were just 28 seconds remaining on the game clock. That was a 3-point try. It didn't land. The sophomore guard played just 14 minutes. Jeffries, Wyoming's other consistent outside threat, went just 1-for-7 from the field and missed all six of his shots from beyond the arc. When the Pokes role players aren't chipping in offensively, it can make for a long night. Everyone not named Maldonado or Ike accounted for just 20 of the Cowboys' 58 points.
* The third time was not the charm for Linder. It's been three times now that his teams have landed in the pigtail game in Dayton. All three ended in heartbreak. Boise State dropped a game to LaSalle in 2013 and another to the hometown Flyers two years later.
* Wyoming falls to 9-21 all-time in NCAA Tournament games, its last win coming against Gonzaga back in 2002. This was the Cowboys 16th trip to the Big Dance. Tonight was essentially a road game for UW, playing just 166 miles from Indiana's Bloomington campus. The Pokes, on the other hand, had a respectable showing inside UD Arena, despite a 1,200-plus mile trip on 24-hours notice.
* Wyoming scorers: Maldonado 21, Ike 17, Thompson 6, Wenzel 5, Oden 5, Jeffries 4, DuSell 0