WSU (10-4, 1-2 in Pac-12) overcame early offensive struggles with big contributions from their international players. The Australian big fella, Oscar Cluff, set a career high in points with 20 and the North Macedonia native Andrej Jakimovski came up big in the second half with four three-pointers, finishing with 15 points. OSU (9-5, 1-2) kept the game within an arms reach down the stretch but ultimately couldn’t get the shots or stops to get back within a possession in the home stretch.
The Cougar offense started as cold as the Pullman winters with the two buckets early on from Rueben Chinyelu being the only field goals from WSU in the first 12 minutes. OSU took advantage of the stagnant offense with six of their first 10 shots from the floor finding the bottom of the net for an early 10-point lead. No matter what WSU tried offensively, nothing fell. Inside shots wouldn’t roll home and open jumpers were met with a lid on the rim.
With WSU having no signs of life on offense, they found a spark from an unlikely hero off the bench. Cluff re-entered the game with 8:19 left in the first half and snapped WSU’s 10-minute field goal drought with a bucket inside. The Aussie big-man continued to break down the Beaver dam inside with two more layups and a free-throw to add on. Cluff ended the half with three of the Cougars five field goals. Fortunately for WSU, the Beavers offense began to slow down after their hot start which kept the game within three at the halftime break.
Whatever the halftime entertainment was at Beasley Coliseum tonight likely wasn’t as entertaining as the show Cluff put on to open the second half. The big fella was hard at work in the paint with an and-one to open his scoring onslaught. He continued to feast with a pair of jumpers and put the exclamation point on his personal 9-2 run with a fast-break dunk that forced OSU to call a timeout.
AUS-car Cluff making a statement! He hammers down the transition dunk for a new career-high 18 points. He's leading all scorers and also all rebounders with eight boards.#GoCougs // #CVE // @Pac12Network pic.twitter.com/RF0JAosvvC— Washington State Men's Basketball (@WSUCougarsMBB) January 5, 2024
In the first half, WSU missed all seven of their shots from beyond the arc. Jakimovski finally knocked home the Cougars first of the game to retake the lead almost five minutes into the second half. As the Cougars held a short lead, Jakimovski officially hit his ‘NBA Jam heating up’ threshold with back-to-back treys to give the Cougs their largest lead of the game so far at nine. A trio of free throws from Jaylen Wells, after he was fouled on a three-point attempt, pushed the lead to a game-high 11.
Just as it looked like WSU was ready to set this game into cruise control, things began to unravel. KC Ibekwe kicked off the run with an and-one and followed it up with three straight paint buckets for a 9-0 run to bring the game within two. As the Beavers brought the deficit down to one, Jakimovksi delivered again with his fourth three on his fourth attempt of the second half to push the lead back up to two possessions and Myles Rice tacked on a layup for good measure.
Despite Jakimovski’s second half heroics, it was Wells who drove the dagger that broke the Beaver dam. The junior guard drilled a big-time three to give WSU a seven-point cushion with 1:34 remaining. Wells then cashed in a three-point play the old fashioned way to keep it at seven and reeled in the game sealing rebound for WSU’s first conference win of the year.
WSU will look to make it two in a row on Saturday when they welcome in the Oregon Ducks.