LARAMIE, Wyo. — Make no mistake, the Wyoming men’s basketball team’s game Saturday against San Jose State was a regular-season finale, as the Arena-Audtiorium crowd lauded Cowboy seniors Jason McManamen and Morris Marshall on Senior Day.
But with the seventh seed of the Mountain West tournament on the line, the game was akin to Wyoming’s first game of the postseason.
The Cowboys passed the test, outlasting the Spartans for a sloppy 74-62 win.
“Just going into the tournament, this was our first round,” Wyoming freshman Cody Kelley said. “So now to us, we’re going into the second round. We started today, because we wanted that seventh seed and we got it, and now we’re going into Vegas with confidence and we’re ready to play.”
Wyoming, which will open next week’s conference tournament against either Air Force or UNLV, ended the regular season 18-13 overall and 8-10 in conference. In Allen Edwards’ first season as head coach, the Cowboys finished with four more wins and one more conference victory than the year before.
McManamen had nine points on 3-of-8 3-point shooting in his final regular-season game in Laramie. The Torrington, Wyoming, native and program leader in made 3-pointers addressed the crowd after the game.
“I’m at a loss for words right now,” he said. “This has been the best five years of my life. I just have so many people to thank. My family, my teammates, coaches. You guys have been amazing all five years. I’ve loved every second of it. I’m going to miss putting this jersey on, running down the tunnel.
“Man, thank you guys, and I’ll always be a Cowboy.”
McManamen and Marshall were honored with a pregame presentation and framed jerseys.
“I don’t know if it’s fully hit me yet,” McManamen said. “It’s crazy. I’ve been here a long time. Being a kid from small-town Wyoming, I always wanted to be a Poke. I got to live my dream, and I had a lot of people help me do that along the way.”
Marshall started his first game as a Cowboy and recorded a rebound, a turnover and a foul before subbing out at the 16:53 mark in the first half. He hurt his knee on an awkward fall and did not return, but afterward was in high spirits nonetheless.
“I feel like emotion probably got the best of me in the start, because today was a real big day for me and Jason,” Marshall said. “But it felt great to just be out there near the fans, just feeling love. It was great.”
Justin James led Wyoming with 15 points. Alan Herndon scored 13, and Hayden Dalton added 11 in his second start of the season. Jeremy Lieberman and Kelley were also in double figures with 10. Kelley’s 10 matched a career high. It was Wyoming’s fourth game this year with five players scoring 10 or more points.
San Jose State’s Brandon Clarke led all scorers with 20 points and Ryan Welage had 19.
Both teams appeared to be playing on roller skates in the first half. The Spartans had 16 turnovers before halftime, the most in a half by any Wyoming opponent all year. In fact, there had only been five entire games in which Wyoming opponents had 16 takeaways before Saturday, one being the Cowboys’ Jan. 18 win at San Jose State. The Spartans finished Saturday’s game with 21 turnovers, the most by a Wyoming opponent this season.
Wyoming itself had nine turnovers before halftime, and had just one more point off turnovers than San Jose State in the half: 17 to 16.
“For us, for me at least, there was a lot of emotion going through me to start the game,” McManamen said. “Both teams, it was a little sloppy, especially in the first half with turnovers and missing shots. But I feel like especially in the second half, we settled down a little bit.”
The Cowboys’ 3-point shooting, meanwhile, continued to be steady. Wyoming hit its first five attempts from behind the arc and 6 of 9 in the half. Even the Spartans had some luck from deep, making 3 of 7 in the half, with one coming on a bank shot and another coming from Clarke. He entered the game having shot just two 3-pointers this season, both misses.
The Pokes, who are shooting 51.9 percent on first-half 3-pointers their last eight games, shot 52.4 percent from 3-point range overall Saturday, their second best performance all season (Northern Iowa, 55.2). They also shot better than 50 percent from the field for just the sixth time all season.
The Cowboys pushed their lead to six points six times before finally breaking through, going up by as many as 15 late, thanks to a 10-1 run. Kelley had five points during that stretch and seven points in the game’s final 4 minutes.
With the loss, San Jose State (14-15, 7-11) will be the No. 9 seed and face No. 8 Utah State in the first round.
Air Force lost to Boise State 98-70 on Saturday, meaning that if UNLV defeats Fresno State on Saturday evening, the Rebels will face Wyoming on Wednesday as the No. 10 seed. If Fresno State wins, Air Force will earn the No. 10 seed by tiebreaker.
“I told our guys, to be honest with you, I don’t fear anybody in this league,” Edwards said. “I’m not one of those coaches that say, ‘I’d rather play this team or that team.’ We let the chips fall where they may. I’m with our guys that a team should not want to see us. So whatever happens happens. We’ll be prepared to play whoever.”