The Nevada Wolf Pack started celebrating a little too early Tuesday night.
“I felt like we had this game,” Wolf Pack center A.J. West said after a 64-58 loss to the Wyoming Cowboys before a stunned crowd of 5,291 at Lawlor Events Center.
“When we got a lead we kind of started feeling like the game was ours,” junior guard Tyron Criswell said.
The game did belong to the Pack at halftime.
The Wolf Pack built a comfortable 27-13 lead after the first 20 minutes as Wyoming missed 17-of-23 shots, 11 of its 12 3-point attempts and all five of its free throws in the first half. The Pack went on a 21-2 run that lasted over 10 minutes in the first half and led by as many as 15 (23-8) with 3:31 to go before the intermission.
“I felt like we turned a corner,” West said.
Unfortunately for the Wolf Pack there was still 20 minutes to play.
Wyoming did an about-face in the second half, shooting 62 percent from the field and scoring 51 points. The 13 points Wyoming scored in the first half represent the fewest points the Pack has allowed in a half this season. The Cowboys’ 51 points in the second half are the second most points the Pack has allowed in a half behind the 55 they surrendered in the first half at Colorado State last month.
“We just didn’t come out to play in the second half,” senior guard Michael Perez said.
The Wolf Pack, though, still had a comfortable 41-28 lead after two free throws by Eric Cooper with 12:40 to play. Earlier in the second half Marqueze Coleman connected on a 3-pointer for a 33-20 Pack lead, Criswell had an acrobatic spin move in the lane for a lay-up and a 35-23 lead and D.J. Fenner hit a 15-foot jumper for a 39-27 lead.
Wyoming’s comeback, though, began innocently enough with a free throw by Alan Herndon with 12:26 to play, cutting the Pack lead to 41-29. That started a 10-0 Wyoming run that also included a jumper by Herndon, lay-ups by Charles Hankerson and Derek Cooke and a 3-pointer by Hankerson.
“We need to learn how to step on teams’ throats when we get a big lead,” Criswell said.
The Cowboys eventually tied the game at 46-46 after a lay-up by Jason McManamen with 6:22 to go.
“We just didn’t play like we were playing in the first half,” West said.
Cowboys guards Riley Grabau and Josh Adams started attacking the basket in the second half.
“We were prepared for it,” Carter said. “We just didn’t guard well.”
“To a man, we didn’t guard the ball like we should have,” Perez said.
The Wolf Pack recovered slightly, taking a 50-46 lead on a jumper by Criswell and two free throws by West. A pair of free throws each by Grabau and Adams, though, evened the game at 50-50 with 5:07 to play.
The Wolf Pack would never lead again.
“We just didn’t make the tough plays on them when we needed to,” Perez said.
McManamen gave the Cowboys a 53-50 lead with a 3-pointer and an Adams field goal made it 54-50 with 4:02 left. West broke free inside for a lay-up to cut the Wyoming lead to 54-52 but Hankerson countered with another 3-pointer for a 57-52 Wyoming lead with 3:14 to go.
The Wolf Pack did pull to within a basket twice, cutting Wyoming’s lead to 58-56 with 1:31 to go and 60-58 with 25 seconds left. The Cowboys, though, got a lay-up by Adams for a 60-56 lead with 1:05 to play and two free throws by Adams for a 62-58 lead with 23 seconds left.
Grabau put the game away with two free throws for a 64-58 Wyoming lead with 11 seconds left.
Adams led Wyoming with 18 points, 14 in the second half. Grabau scored all seven of his points in the second half. Cooke finished with 14 with 10 coming after halftime. All of Hankerson’s nine points were in the second half. McManamen had eight of his 11 points in the second half.
“We just didn’t play defense in the second half,” Carter said.
West was the only Wolf Pack player to score in the final six minutes. The 6-foot-9 forward, who finished with 18 points and 19 rebounds, scored the Pack’s final 10 points. The rest of the team combined to go 0-for-7 from the floor in the final six minutes.
“A.J. is the only player we have that is consistent,” Carter said. “We just don’t know what we’re going to get from guy to guy every game.”
The Wolf Pack has now lost five of its last six home games to fall to 8-17 overall and 4-9 in the Mountain West. Wyoming, which was without its best player, 6-8 senior Larry Nance (out with mononucleosis), improved to 21-6, 10-4. The Cowboys, which beat the Pack in Laramie, Wyo., 63-55 on Jan. 31, now leads its series with Nevada, 13-2.
Carter said Tuesday’s loss was the complete opposite of last Saturday’s 66-63 overtime win over New Mexico. The Pack recovered from a 15-point deficit to beat New Mexico and came back in its next game to waste a 15-point lead in the loss to Wyoming.
“We just can’t seem to find any consistency,” Carter said. “We keep taking one step forward and then two steps back.”
Coleman, who had 24 points and led the comeback against New Mexico, had just eight points against Wyoming and fouled out after playing just 22 minutes.
“It’s like I said (after the New Mexico game),” Carter said. “You have to follow up one good game with another good game. Every game is different. It’s like a different book. You can’t play the same way every game.”