LARAMIE — Senior guard Jason McManamen’s layup through contact with 43 seconds remaining sealed the game for Wyoming in a 74-68 win over Utah Valley on Wednesday evening, advancing the Cowboys to the finals of the College Basketball Invitational presented by Five Four.
The Pokes will meet Sun Belt foe Coastal Carolina in a best-of-three series that will start on Monday in Conway, South Carolina. The Cowboys will then host on March 29 at 7 p.m., followed by a third game, if necessary, on March 31 at a time to be determined. All three games will be televised by ESPNU.
“I’m happy for and proud of these guys,” UW head coach Allen Edwards said. “One of the things that I was happiest with was we didn’t allow us not shooting the ball well to affect us on the defensive end of the floor. We never lost confidence, our mojo or our energy in terms of continuing to play hard whether we missed shots or not.
“I also love the fact that guys were in the huddle talking to each other positively about finishing the game out strong and getting stops. That type of positive communication really help guys focus in on the task at hand.”
McManamen’s layup gave him 1,001 career points, making him the 35th Cowboy to reach 1,000 points and the fifth Wyoming native to accomplish the feat. He finished his 120th game as a Poke with 12 points, the 51st double-digit scoring game of his career.
“I truly am happy for Jason,” Edwards said. “That play was huge. He’s a senior and has really taken to his role this postseason of being there when we need him.”
The Cowboys led until the 3:20 mark of the second half when UVU’s Issac Neilsen made it a 67-66 contest with a pair of free throws, UVU’s first lead of the game.
Sophomore guard Justin James gave UW a 69-68 lead on free throws with a little more than two minutes remaining, and the Cowboys defense didn’t allow another field goal. UW walked away with its 21st win on the season. It was also the 400th win in the Arena-Auditorium and the 17th this season, tying for the most wins in the Arena-Auditorium in a single season.
James poured in 16 points for UW to lead all scorers. He has led Wyoming in scoring in seven-straight games.
Junior guard Louis Adams added 12 points on 8 of 10 from the free-throw line. It was his 11th double-figure scoring game of the season. Junior guard Jeremy Lieberman added a team-high four assists. Junior forward Alan Herndon had 9 points and five rebounds and added two steals. Junior forward Hayden Dalton grabbed 10 rebounds to lead Wyoming.
The Pokes held Utah Valley to 37 percent from the field for back-to-back games holding the opposition under 40 percent shooting. Wyoming shot 46 percent from the field but only hit three 3-pointers on the night, breaking its 11-game streak with double-digit 3s.
UVU held the advantage on the glass on the night with 42 rebounds compared to UW’s 32, but Wyoming scored 21 points off turnovers.
“As we were preparing for Utah Valley, watching them on film reminded me a little bit of what we went through earlier in the year in terms of being careless with the ball and turning it over,” Edwards said. “We just wanted to play solid defense with active hands. I thought we did a good job in turning them over.”
The Cowboys got out to an 11-2 start that saw redshirt freshman forward Andrew Moemeka put an exclamation mark on it with an alley-oop jam from Lieberman. Herndon added a triple to open the scoring run.
The Wolverines cut the Pokes lead to as little as 2 at 15-13, but a 10-0 run by UW made it a 23-10 game with 11:27 remaining in the first half. Adams led the way with 4 points during the stretch that gave UW their largest lead of the game.
The Wolverines tied the game at 33 at the 2:52 mark on a layup by Conner Toolson, but Wyoming closed the half on a 6-0 run to take a 39-33 lead into the break.
Neilsen recorded a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds to lead Utah Valley. Toolson added 15 points, as well, along with seven rebounds.
Tickets for next Wednesday’s game can be purchased on GoWyo.com, over the phone at 307-766-7220 or in person at the Wyoming Athletic Ticket Office.