WSU Cougars survive maddening 2nd half, beat Drake 66-61

Mar 21, 2024, 9:57 PM | Updated: 10:29 pm

WSU Cougars NCAA Tournament Isaiah Watts Jaylen Wells...

Isaiah Watts of the WSU Cougars reacts after a basket against Drake in the NCAA Tournament. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

(Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Style points mean nothing this time of year, so a grinding win was absolutely beautiful as far as WSU Cougars coach Kyle Smith was concerned.

Isaac Jones had 20 points and 11 rebounds, Isaiah Watts’ first 3-pointer in three games gave Washington State the lead with 1:51 left and the seventh-seeded Cougars beat No. 10 Drake 66-61 in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night.

WSU Cougars 66, Drake Bulldogs 61: Box score

The Cougars (25-9) shot just 29.6% while trailing most of the second half, but Drake’s season-worst 6-of-14 performance at the free-throw line allowed them to win in their first tournament appearance since 2008.

“As teams scout you and everyone has film on you, they try to make it ugly against us a little bit,” Smith said. “Just a big win. It’s ugly ball. Get on the glass and don’t turn it over.”

WSU will play Saturday in the East Region second round against No. 2 Iowa State (28-7), which beat South Dakota State 82-65.

Drake (28-7) had its largest lead at 54-46 when WSU started its comeback.

Tucker DeVries had a shot swirl in and out, and Andrej Jakimovski made a 3 from the wing to get the Cougars within 54-51. Drake’s Darnell Brodie had the ball slip out of his hands as he was making a move to the basket, and Jones snaked in for a layup on the other end to make it 54-53.

Brodie, who controlled much of the second half for Drake offensively, fouled out with 2:26 left before Watts connected for the lead.

“That’s who Isaiah is,” WSU’s Myles Rice said. “He has a lot of guts to take shots like that. I have full faith in him. He brings energy for us and that’s not the first time he’s hit a shot like that. I’m just glad he hit it on the biggest stage.”

The Cougars made 5 of 6 free throws to hold off the Bulldogs.

“Felt we had a chance there and got a little cushion late in the game and just weren’t able to close it out,” Drake coach Darian DeVries said. “It’s always tough to end your season. Today was a tough one. I thought our guys played extremely hard and left it all out there and unfortunately came up a little short.”

Atin Wright had 20 points and Tucker DeVries, the two-time Missouri Valley Conference player of the year, added 14 for the Bulldogs.

Jaylen Wells had 17 points for Washington State, which improved to 21-0 when leading at halftime.

The teams’ only previous meeting was in 1935, a 28-27 Washington State victory at home.

Rice, the Pac-12 freshman of the year, finally ended his 3-point shooting frustrations early in the game. He had missed 25 in a row over nine games before he swished one in the first half.

“Feels good to see one go in,” Rice said.

Up next

Iowa State and Washington State will square off for the first time. The Cyclones will try to return to the Sweet 16 for the first time since their surprise run as a No. 11 seed in 2022. WSU went to the Sweet 16 in its previous appearance.

More on WSU in the NCAA Tournament

WSU legend Klay Thompson: Cougars’ NCAA return ‘gives me chills’
Will WSU make noise in tourney return? The Ringer’s Tate Frazier weighs in
WSU coach Kyle Smith on potential extension: ‘We’re working on it’


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