CASPER, Wyo. -- They played in front of a friendly crowd.
But the Cowboys looked anything but comfortable in the Casper Events Center.
Divaldo Mbunga scored 23 points and pulled down eight rebounds to help lift Montana State to a 79-72 victory over Wyoming at the Wyoming Shootout on Saturday.
The Bobcats had their way with the Cowboys in the paint, out-rebounding the Pokes 41-30 and scoring 11 more second-chance points than UW.
Mbunga led the way, converting seven field goals on just 11 shots and finishing 9-of-10 from the free-throw line.
"I'll take my hat off to him," Brandon Ewing said. "Coach (Heath Schroyer) told us before the game, he probably averaged five offensive rebounds a game, and I think he hit his average today."
The Pokes made a game of it down the stretch. Ewing scored nine points and dished out one assist during a five-minute period late in the second half as Wyoming jumped ahead 64-62 with 3:59 remaining.
The Bobcats (5-4) responded with 10 unanswered points to go up 72-64 before a pair of three-pointers from Ryan Dermody cut the MSU advantage to 75-72 with 41 seconds to go. Mbunga drew a foul on the Bobcats' next possession, however, and his two free-throws sealed the win.
"That's tough on any team," Ewing said. "When you're chipping away (at) their lead and you make some big shots, and they come back and answer, it's kind of tough. It hurts your heart."
Dermody led Wyoming (4-4) with 17 points on 4-of-10 shooting, including 4-of-7 from three-point range. Ewing finished with 14 points, nine assists and no turnovers. Travis Nelson added a career-high 14 points and a career-high five blocks, and Eric Platt scored 11 points.
Carlos Taylor and Casey Durham each scored 14 points for MSU, and Phil Friesen added 10.
Montana State opened the second half with a 19-9 run to take a 46-40 lead with 13:40 to go. Ewing converted a three-point play with 8:34 remaining that put the Cowboys back up 55-52, but Mbunga scored four of the next six to help the Bobcats regain a 58-55 advantage.
A three-pointer from Platt tied the score at 58, but Durham knocked in back-to-back three-pointers for the Bobcats two minutes later to help spark the final MSU run.
"I've said all season that we are a work in progress," Schroyer said. "One of our goals tonight was to eliminate as many catch and shoot opportunities for them, but we didn't close out on their shooters consistently."
They didn't box out consistently either.
"It's kind of been our Achilles' heel all year, that and turnovers," Schroyer said. "They went hard to the boards all night long. We can't give up 17 offensive boards and expect to win.
"I give Montana State all the credit. They came out in the second half and played really well. They played on their toes, and we played on our heels."
The Bobcats jumped out to an early 14-7 lead after Bobby Howard scored six straight points. The Cowboys tied it up at 20 later in the period and three-pointer from Dermody at the buzzer gave Wyoming a 31-27 halftime advantage.
"I'm happy with that," Dermody said of his three-point shooting, "but it's just hard to be happy today.
"I'm just disappointed we lost. You know, we come up here to Casper, a lot of new fans up here, a big event up here, and we wanted to try and get a win and weren't able to do it."
They weren't able to, in large part, because of Mbunga. Wyoming had few answers for the big man's presence underneath the hoop. He scored 18 points in the final 18 minutes and pulled in six of his eight boards in the second period.
"We had a few defensive breakdowns as a team," Dermody said, "and then, they really out-rebounded us."
The Wyoming loss broke a 13-game winning streak for the Cowboys in the series with MSU. The last time the Bobcats beat the Pokes was on Dec. 16, 1961. Wyoming leads the all-time series 41-10.
The Cowboys will travel to El Paso, Texas Dec. 21 to face Buffalo in the first round of the UTEP Sun Bowl tournament.
Inside Play Propels MSU Over Wyoming
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