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Graham Ike marks return with double-double as Wyoming men’s basketball edges out New Mexico

Wyoming men's basketball center Graham Ike vs. New Mexico at Arena-Auditorium in Laramie. (University of Wyoming Athletics)

LARAMIE, Wyo. — Wyoming men’s basketball didn’t desperately need Graham Ike, its sensational sophomore big man, as he sat out the win over San Jose State earlier this week as a precaution for a minor knee injury suffered Monday at Nevada.

But oh, did the Cowboys love having him back.

The Mountain West Conference’s leading scorer dumped a 29-point and 15-rebound double-double as the Pokes got the job done, especially late, in a wild 93–91 win over New Mexico on Saturday at Arena-Auditorium.

Ike was a point away from his second 30-point game of the season but did notch 20 points for the fourth consecutive game. He looked unbothered with the slight knee trouble he suffered from banging his surgically-repaired right knee on the floor against Nevada, with his 6-foot-9 frame being an at-times unguardable presence inside.

Things got a bit hairy for the Cowboys (15–2 overall) down the stretch, with a 10-point second-half lead cut to as little as two by the Lobos (7–12). But UW sent New Mexico packing for its sixth straight loss with some big plays in the game’s final minutes with some personnel dealing with foul trouble.

Ike especially got going in the second half, going 5 for 5 from the field with 16 points after halftime as one of America’s most productive centers got his fill — even through frequent Lobos double teams. And when Ike couldn’t fight his way through multiple players, he often kicked it out to his hot-shooting teammates on the perimeter for often-successful results.

Senior guard Hunter Maldonado finished with 25 points while sophomore guard Brendan Wenzel followed a season-high 15 points against San Jose State earlier in the week with a 13-point performance against the Lobos, coming off of four 3-pointers that he knocked down in the first half.

New Mexico was spurred on in the game’s final 20 minutes through great nights from guards Jamal Mashburn Jr. and Jaelen House, who finished with 16 points each in the second half. That and better shooting from deep between the halves (eight 3-pointers after halftime, compared to three before) played a major role in New Mexico not being put away after being down double digits.

But Wyoming stayed cool in the game’s dying embers, with the experienced Maldonado especially being a collected figure through some makes from the field as well as from the free throw line. It was a season high in scoring for the Coloradan and his most points since dropping 30 on Dec. 12, 2020 in a win at Utah Valley.

In a crazy sequence late, UW guard Drake Jeffries — with the Cowboys up two points late — threw a bad pass that was picked off by the Lobos. But with 12.5 seconds to play, Mashburn’s drive to the rim was stopped by Maldonado, who drew a charge to give Wyoming the ball back.

New Mexico coach Richard Pitino became incensed, drawing a technical foul and giving Jeffries the opportunity to go 1 of 2 from the line. UW never had the lead threatened again as a buzzer-beating bucket from the Lobos was for naught.

The Cowboys easily controlled the rebounding margin 34–23, undoubtedly a key statistic that helped UW contain New Mexico as the minutes ticked down. Ike, Maldonado, Jeffries and Jeremiah Oden all finished with at least five rebounds.

Wyoming plays returns to the court at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Boise State. The scheduled matchup between the Cowboys and the Broncos on New Year’s Day in Laramie was postponed shortly before tipoff due to COVID-19 issues in the Boise State program.

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