In a second half chock full of lead changes, Jones pushed WSU (11-5, 2-3 in Pac-12) across the finish line with a monster second half. Jones scored 16 of WSU’s final 27 points — including the bucket that gave WSU the lead for good — after starting the game on the bench. USC (8-8, 2-3) was held scoreless for the final 2:16 of the game.
Kyle Smith changed up the Cougar starting five by electing to start Jaylen Wells over Jones. Wells thanked Smith for the starting nod quickly, knocking down a trey just 2:20 into the game. While WSU’s offense stalled following Wells’ three, USC’s offense accelerated with a 7-0 run to take a six point lead as WSU couldn’t find the bottom of the net for nearly five minutes.
Myles Rice ended the Trojan run with a layup that sparked WSU’s own run of 8-2 to tie the game at 13 each after treys from Wells and Isaiah Watts. As WSU’s starting center Oscar Cluff found himself in foul trouble early, Jones came off the bench and quickly took control of the game. The Spanaway native scored nine of the Cougars next 14 points, helping WSU grab a lead as high as six. Wells concluded the half with a bucket inside just before the halftime horn, finishing with a game-high 13 first half points in his first start.
Jaylen Wells finishes before the buzzer and leads all scorers with 13 points. The first-career start for the Cali kid has him as the only double digit scorer at the break.#GoCougs // #CVE // @FS1 pic.twitter.com/O5iYy2iwDN— Washington State Men's Basketball (@WSUCougarsMBB) January 11, 2024
With Jones playing well off the bench, Smith opted to play the hot hand by starting Jones for the second half instead of Kymany Houinsou. But, it was Rueben Chinyelu who drove the WSU offense to start the second half. Chinyelu crushed the Trojans interior defense with a pair of paint buckets and showed he could do it on the other end with a block on Boogie Ellis.
USC made their run to pull back within two, but foul trouble plagued the Trojans with Isaiah Collier picking up his third foul early into the second half and WSU getting into the bonus not even eight minutes into the half. Not only did Collier get into foul trouble, but he also appeared to injure his thumb, sending him to the locker room and ultimately keeping him out for the remainder of the game.
The teams began to start a game of tug-of-war for the lead after USC grabbed their first lead of the half off of an Ellis three. For the next nine minutes, the lead changed hands 12 times with neither team gaining a lead more than two until Jones knocked down a pair of free throws to give the Cougs the three-point edge. The former Coug, DJ Rodman, quickly tied things right back up at 61 with his second triple of the game.
With the clock starting to dwindle down, each lead change turned from a body blow to a haymaker. Jones threw the first punch, taking back the lead with another pair of free throws, but Harrison Hornery answered right back with a big three to steal the lead back. But yet again, it was Jones who answered the call, driving to the bucket and drawing contact for the and-one.
Isaac Jones and-1! He puts the Cougs back on top in the 19th lead change of the game. Isaac has a Pac-12 career-high 26 points and one shy of his season high.#GoCougs // #CVE // @FS1 pic.twitter.com/fs7VquYbhc— Washington State Men's Basketball (@WSUCougarsMBB) January 11, 2024
Jones continued to add to his incredible second half with yet another big bucket inside to push the lead to four with 1:17 to go. On the ensuing possession, Ellis drew a foul to get to the free throw line, but missed the front-end of the one-and-one free throws to keep WSU up two possessions. Ellis missed another chance to pull within a possession on a deep three attempt and the Cougars were able to ice the game away with free throws.
The win at the Galen Center is WSU’s first since February 2015 and a huge win at that. Coming off the Oregon loss at 1-3 in conference play, the Cougars desperately needed to right the conference ship and did just that behind a much improved defensive performance and finally closed out an opponent thanks to a huge effort from Jones.
WSU will now return home for a marquee matchup against the No. 8 Arizona Wildcats on Saturday afternoon.