LARAMIE — To say the Wyoming men’s basketball team prefers playing at home might be a bit of an understatement.
The Cowboys have lost just three true home games this season and won just three true road games.
Never has it been more evident than Wednesday. Two days after allowing 91 points in a loss at Coastal Carolina, Wyoming beat the same team 81-57 at the Arena-Auditorium, keeping its season alive in the best-of-three CBI championship series and notching a program-record 18th win at the A-A this season.
The crowd of 3,811 was Wyoming’s biggest of the tournament.
“I do believe we like playing here, at home,” head coach Allen Edwards said. “I thought our crowd tonight was tremendous, and I thought they were our sixth man with their energy. Again, we just need that same type of turnout plus more to walk away with this thing.”
The Cowboys limited the Chanticleers to 27 first-half points and ran away from them with 48 points of their own in the second half, Wyoming’s most in a half since putting 50 on San Jose State before halftime Jan. 18.
The Cowboys, who led by as many as 27, host the third game of the series at 5 p.m. Friday.
Justin James led all scorers with 21 points, and Alexander Aka Gorski added 17, his highest-scoring game in more than two months.
Wyoming began the game with a 9-2 run and built its lead to eight in the first 6 minutes. A game after trailing for all but 26 seconds, Wyoming never trailed and the game was tied for just 27 seconds. Wyoming entered the intermission leading 33-27.
The Chanticleers’ 27 first-half points were the fewest in a half by a Wyoming opponent since UNLV scored 23 in the first half on Jan. 25 against the Cowboys. The half was a far cry from the game two days earlier, when Wyoming and Coastal Carolina combined for 172 points in a shootout.
In many ways, though, the first half was much of the same, as Wyoming turned the ball over 10 times in the first 10 minutes and allowed seven first-half offensive rebounds. Monday, Wyoming allowed a season-worst 18 offensive rebounds and also had 10 first-half turnovers. But shooting was the difference. Coastal Carolina began the game 7 of 31 from the field and 1 of 11 from 3, while Wyoming made 5 of its first 9 3-point attempts.
The Cowboys’ initial eight-point lead was established by a James layup, but the Cowboys wouldn’t make another field goal for the next 5 minutes and change, as Coastal Carolina got back within two points.
The Chanticleers’ scoring struggles wouldn’t allow them to take the lead, however. Joseph Williams-Powell’s jumper with less than 3 minutes remaining in the half ended a 4:42 scoring drought and a span of 6:10 without a field goal. At that point, Wyoming had built its lead back to seven. A James layup in the final seconds of the half sent the Cowboys into the break up six.
The Cowboys weren’t interested in continuing the defensive struggle in the second half. Jason McManamen began the period with an and-1 layup, reminiscent of the one that secured Wyoming’s semifinal win against Utah Valley. After an Alan Herndon block on the other end, James got a three-point play of his own. That pushed the lead to 12, the biggest lead of the game to that point, to force Coastal Carolina to call a timeout less than a minute into the half.
The Chanticleers scored four quick points out of the timeout, but the Cowboys’ offense would not cooperate. A 16-7 run, sparked by a pair of Hayden Dalton-to-Jordan Naughton slams, pushed Wyoming’s lead to 17 for the first time all game. The lead later rose to 21 when Aka Gorski scored five consecutive points for Wyoming.
The lead dipped briefly before Aka Gorski hit three more 3s in the span of 2:10.
The Cowboys turned the ball over just five times after halftime and allowed just four offensive boards in the final period.
Wyoming’s game Wednesday was its 37th of the year, tying a school record for most in a season. In 1950-51, the Cowboys also played 37 games. They Cowboys haven’t played this late in the calendar year since March 31, 1952.
Jonathan Barnes started for Andrew Moemeka, who injured his back in the first game of the championship series. It was Barnes’ first start since Feb. 28 at Colorado State. He hadn’t played in a game since.
Coastal Carolina was without Colton Ray St-Cyr, who had 14 points in the first game of the series.
Wyoming is now 18-3 at home this season. The 2014-15 Cowboys held the previous record with 17 wins at the Arena-Auditorium.
Wyoming also tied a school record for most wins in a single postseason invitational tournament, with four. In 1986, the Cowboys won four games in the NIT before falling to Ohio State in the championship game. The Cowboys will have a chance to break that record on Friday.