Tuck’s 10 takes: Ike punishes Utah State late … again
LARAMIE -- Drama, anyone?
Wouldn't be a Wyoming basketball game without it, right?
This one was loaded with it.
Less than five minutes into it, Jeff Linder was tossed after receiving back-to-back technical fouls. Hunter Maldonado put a scare into the more than 5,500 in attendance when he went down with an ankle injury early. Graham Ike picked up quick fouls on consecutive trips down the floor.
Wondering why Linder got ejected?
Look no further.
This was all crammed into the first five minutes of regulation. It got wilder.
Still, this young, senior-less team found a way to weather the storm and pull out a 78-76 victory in overtime, putting a halt to Utah State's five-game winning streak and extending its own to that same number
Wyoming is now 20-3 overall and 9-1 in Mountain West play. The Cowboys are tied atop the league standings with idle Boise State.
Ken DeWeese, UW's acting head coach with Linder watching the game on television inside the back hallways of the Arena-Auditorium, said he didn't need to deviate from the original game plan or make some special speeches in the huddle.
Like in Sunday's 61-59 road win at Fresno State, the message was loud and clear -- get it to No. 33 and get out of the way.
"Pretty Much," UW's assistant said with a smile, referring to feeding 6-foot-9 forward Graham Ike in the post throughout the final 20 minutes and into the extra frame. "The short answer: yes."
Despite playing just four minutes in the first half, Ike led all scorers with 28 points. He ripped down two game-changing offensive rebounds, once at the end of regulation and again with time winding down in overtime. Both times he wrapped his 13-inch hands around the ball and calmly put it up and in.
The latter served as the dagger as Utah State guard Rylan Jones whiffed on a last-second layup.
So, what does Ike think about his coach's strategy?
"I love it," the freshman said, flashing his trademark grin. "Either it's going to be a score, a foul or I'm going to make the right play to one of my teammates."
Ike also pulled down a dozen boards and chipped in with a pair of assists.
The Aggies had no answer for the Cowboys big man.
Trevin Dorius tried and failed. So did Brandon Horvath. Zee Homoda didn't stand a chance. Neither did Justin Bean.
"There's a reason why we always say he's one of the best players, if not the best player, in this league," DeWeese said. "... He's just a tough kid. He's just a winner. He's just about all the right things."
Lost in yet another memorable performance from the Aurora, Colo., product was sinking a clutch pair of free throws to send this into overtime in the first place. Like he did last week against Border War rival Colorado State, Ike toed the line and swished a pair to force the extra period.
"Well, I mean, that's what first-team all-league player-of-the-year type of guys, that's what they do," Linder said postgame. "They make winning plays in those moments."
How about this stat? Ike finished the night with just those two first-half fouls.
The guy is special.
The Cowboys will travel to San Jose State Saturday to take on the cellar-dwelling Spartans inside Provident Credit Union Event Center. Tip time is set for 7 p.m.
Here are some other takeaways from yet another nail-biter in Laramie:
* About that ejection. Linder, who was booted at the 15:50 mark of the first half, did speak to the media postgame and said the reasoning behind it is simple -- he was sticking up for his guys. Last February in a game against New Mexico in Colorado Springs, Wyoming's second-year head coach was sent to the showers for the same reason. He was sticking up for Ike. Linder joked that he spent his time inside the "7220 Club" watching the game on TV and receiving text messages from his wife. "I felt, at the time, it was the right thing to do," he said. "As much as my wife would probably make me sleep on the couch tonight, you have to fight for your team." How about DeWeese? He's now 2-0 as acting head coach. Both wins came against conference foes. Both went into overtime. "I can can't say it enough in terms of how proud I am of that group of young men and in my coaching staff to kind of withstand me," Linder added.
* Maldonado netted 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field and dished out five assists. Linder said he did it all on one leg. The redshirt junior suffered an ankle sprain at the 16:54 mark of the first half after running into Jones near mid-court. Maldonado was assisted to the locker room but returned to the floor moments later and played 41 minutes. For those keeping track at home, a regulation basketball game is 40 minutes long. Nothing was keeping off the court tonight. "So, I came back down and gave all I had like I usually do," he said. "Turned out great." Maldonado was on crutches following the game. Wyoming has played five games in 12 days. This is the perfect time him to catch a breather and rehab.
* Bean, Utah State's leading scorer, averaging nearly 20 points per game, finished the first half with a big goose egg on the stat sheet. He attempted just two shots through the first 20 minutes. While Brandon Horvath and Steven Ashworth picked up the pace for the Aggies offensively in the first half, netting a combined 28 of Utah State's 40 points, Bean didn't wake up until the second half. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, he more than woke up. The senior forward scored 14 points and pulled down 11 boards for the visitors. He was killing the Cowboys on backdoor screens. So, what changed? "He's a really good player," Linder said. "I mean, talk about toughness, he's got a lot of toughness. They're just hard to guard."
* One of the reasons Wyoming is coming off a 3-0 week with wins over Mountain West heavyweights Colorado State and Boise State, along with a road victory at Fresno State Sunday night, is rebounding. The Cowboys held the edge in each one of those contests, finishing with a 116-100 advantage. That was not the case tonight. The Aggies pulled down 36 compared to just 31 for the home team. It didn't haunt them tonight -- neither did going just 22-of-32 from the free throw line -- but the Cowboys can't afford to lose those battles in Fort Collins, Albuquerque or Las Vegas.
* Drake Jeffries is an all-around basketball player. I know that's not breaking news, but the Illinois product just does the dirty work. Last week he dove into the front row of chairs courtside for a loose ball, tonight, he was up to his old tricks, snatching rebounds nearly off the rim, taking charges, and, of course, sinking some clutch 3-pointers, his biggest coming with 8:05 left in the second half to give the Cowboys a 58-57 lead. Tonight, he registered his first double-double in a UW uniform, snagging 13 boards. This roster is filled with guys like Jeffries: Jeremiah Oden, Brendan Wenzel, Xavier DuSell ... the list goes on. Maybe that's a big part of the reason last year's Mountain West Freshman of the Year is now playing in College Station, Texas?
* Noah Reynolds is a young, dynamic player. Linder said he has confidence rarely seen in a true freshman. The kid has a high ceiling, but right now he appears to be moving just a tad too fast. Tonight he was hit with a double dribble and turned the ball over three times in just 16 minutes of action. Is he simply going too fast? Wyoming's staff isn't worried one bit. "Probably so, but I mean, that's part of what makes him really good is that he's fearless and he's got a great self-belief," DeWeese said. "He thinks he can go make plays, and for us, we don't want it to detract from who he is as a person and a player." He's going to be just fine.
* The Cowboys afforded the Aggies way too many open looks from beyond the arc in this one. Led by Steven Ashworth and RJ Eytle-Rock, Utah State went 8-of-25 from three. Doesn't seem too bad, right? Most of those shots were the wide-open types. Wyoming is ninth in the nation in 3-point defense, allowing the opposition to hit just 28% from deep. Tonight, that number was 32%. Doesn't seem like much, but the shots just weren't falling for Ryan Odom's squad.
* Wyoming is now an eye-popping 17-0 when it reaches the 70-point mark. That's impressive. You know what else is? Linder's team is now 11-0 inside the Dome of Doom and hasn't lost in this place since Feb. 6, 2021. The Arena-Auditorium is truly a scary place once again.
* Wyoming scoring leaders: Ike 28, Maldonado 23, Jeffries 12, Wenzel 4, Hunter Thompson 4, DuSell 3, Oden 2, Reynolds 2
* Mountain West men's basketball standings:
Wyoming: 20-2, 9-1
Boise State: 18-5, 9-1
Colorado State: 17-3, 7-3
San Diego State: 13-6, 5-3
Fresno State: 16-7, 6-4
UNLV: 14-10, 6-5
Utah State: 15-10, 6-6
Air Force: 9-12, 3-7
New Mexico: 9-14, 2-8
San Jose State: 7-15, 0-10