LAS VEGAS — Coming into the Mountain West Tournament, Wyoming had won two conference games all season, had 7-26 record and a 1-6 record in games decided by two possessions or less.
Now, thanks to freshman Kwane Marble and some late heroics, the Cowboys are the first Cinderella story of the season and are two games away from an NCAA Tournament berth.
Wyoming pulled off its second upset Thursday night by upsetting 3 seed Nevada 74-71 in the quarterfinal of the Mountain West Tournament. Wyoming advances to play 2 seed Utah State in the semifinal today at 8:30 p.m. PST.
Wyoming made Mountain West Tournament history the previous night, becoming the first 11 seed to win a MWC Tournament game with its win over 6 seed Colorado State. The Cowboys are the highest seed ever to play in the Mountain West semifinal, and they will be making their first appearance since Larry Nance Jr. lead the Pokes to the NCAA Tournament in 2015.
Unsurprisingly, Wyoming coach Allen Edwards had an emotional post-game interview after the win over Nevada:
The Cowboys needed late-game heroics to beat the Wolf Pack. Wyoming cut a 10-point halftime deficit and 12 point deficit in the final nine minutes. Wyoming went on a 16-5 run that was capped by a Hunter Thompson three to give Wyoming a 62-61 lead with 4:26 to play. Wyoming was fantastic from distance, shooting 40% (11-27) from three.
Nevada took a hit when star guard Jalen Harris fouled with 2:46 left to play. Harris was held in check for majority of the night, shooting 2-13 from the field. He was constantly bothered by Marble’s length and quickness.
After the game, Nevada head coach Steve Alford talked about Harris’s shooting struggles by giving praise to Marble’s defensive effort.
“I thought he did a really great job at defending [Harris],” Alford said. “[Marble] did a lot of good things that made it difficult on him.”
With the game tight in the final minutes, the Cowboys turned to their 6’6 freshmen combo guard Kwane Marble II to close out the game. Marble was unstoppable all night, leading Wyoming with 24 points on 7-12 shooting. Marble made the Cowboys’ last three field goals — including a three and two crafty lay-ups — that gave Wyoming a two possession lead with a minute remaining. Nevada had a chance to tie the game with a three in the final seconds, but Kane Millings’ attempt fell short.
Wyoming has been lead by freshmen guard Kwane Marble who has been a late-bloomer. Coming into the Mountain West tournament, Marble had made just nine starts for the Cowboys, averaging 18 minutes a game and scoring 7.3 PPG.
Over the past two days, Marble has averaged 22 points on 16-28 shooting while shooting 58% from behind the arc. He was the guy Edwards turned to close the game against Nevada.
Even with his out-of-this-world offensive efficiency numbers, Marble’s best performance came on defense. Marble put the clamps on Jalen Harris, who had his worst shooting night of the conference season by shooting 2-13 from the field and 0-5 from three. Harris still finished with 17 points but 13 of them came from the charity stripe.
Marble took great pride in guarding Harris.
“Coach Edwards drew up a good defensive game plan,” Marble said. “We hang our hat on defense. We take pride in it. I did my job stayed in front of him as much I could.”
Edwards is lucky to have Marble on his team, since he almost slipped away late in the recruiting process last year. Marble was an unranked recruit, but grew a couple of inches going into his senior year of high school and blossomed into a versatile two-way combo guard that achieved all state honors. As his profile rose, he temporarily de-committed from Wyoming while receiving offers from Washington State, Northern Colorado and Little Rock.
In addition, Williams was planning on using Marble’s scholarship on another big man. However, a few months later destiny intervened, when JuCo transfer Lwal Dung left to team for Australia, opening up a late third scholarship for Marble to take. A few weeks later Marble signed his letter of intent with Wyoming, renewing his commitment to the program.
“I think as a group we are a little more seasoned,” Edwards said. “Kwane [Marble] is a great example of that. He didn’t play as much early in the season but he got better. You saw what he did today.”
Wyoming’s story is not over. The Cowboys will have chance to upset the defending Mountain West champion Utah State, which is playing desperately on the bubble. The Aggies had to play a drama-filled game of their own, making an 10 point comeback in the final nine minutes to survive against New Mexico.
Can Wyoming actually win the Mountain West Tournament? If they can, it will be a March Madness story for the ages. If this sport has taught us anything, we should know anything is possible in college basketball in March.