LARAMIE — Wyoming rattled a young South Carolina team with a stingy defense for a much-needed win on its home court.
Senior Justin James scored 20 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out five assists as Wyoming came back in the second half to beat the Gamecocks 73-64 Wednesday night.
James scored 15 of his points in the second half to help Wyoming (3-6) overcome a 37-33 halftime deficit. The Cowboys opened the second half with a 17-4 run thanks to a defense that forced nine turnovers in the first 6-plus minutes and extended their lead to as many as 12 points. The Gamecocks could get no closer than two possessions the rest of the game.
“Tonight I told our guys I thought this was a very smart performance by us, and I thought we did a great job adjusting a little bit on the fly defensively and offensively,” Wyoming coach Allen Edwards said.
Jake Hendricks contributed 16 points, and TJ Taylor 11 for Wyoming, which made 10 of 20 3-pointers on the night.
“We got open shots, really wide open shots, because we were moving the ball so well. None of us rushed shots. We all made sure we had good balanced shots and when we’re open like that they’re a lot easier to make,” Hendricks, who was 5-of-8 from 3-point range, said.
Edwards said Wyoming entered the game needing to improve on defense while on offense “JJ did what JJ does, and I thought they lost Jake a couple of times and he made them pay shooting the basketball.”
South Carolina (4-4) was led by A.J. Lawson’s 15 points and nine rebounds. Chris Silva had 11 points and eight rebounds. The Gamecocks, who started three freshmen, converted just 3 of 20 of their 3-point attempts.
“Our freshmen got rattled in the second half today, they froze,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “But that’s where your upper classmen have to lead, have to show the way, have to give courage for your freshmen to win. And we were impacted by missing shots today, we stopped defending. And you do that on the road and Justin James, he’s that kind of a player, he’ll take over the game and makes you pay for it.”
South Carolina loses a game that is the longest distance it’s traveled in the regular season schedule. The Gamecocks travel no farther than Oklahoma State later in January the rest of the season.
Wyoming improved to 2-3 on its home court so far this season. In 37 years of play at Arena-Auditorium, the Cowboys have won 74.7 percent of their games.
“We got to defend home court a lot more,” Hendricks said. “Tonight was a big win, proving that we can do that, and we have to do it more consistently now.”
Martin coached Wyoming’s Edwards at Miami Senior High School before Edwards went on to play at Kentucky.
South Carolina stays on the road with a game Saturday at No. 5 Michigan, the first game this season the Gamecocks will have faced at Top 25 team.
Wyoming is off until Tuesday when it plays host to Denver.