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SALT LAKE CITY — Don't let his young-looking face deceive you: Rylan Jones is an assassin on the court.
The fresh-faced freshman at the University of Utah led a late-game comeback over rival BYU Wednesday night as his young team claimed a 102-95 overtime win in front of an announced crowd of 11,565 at the Huntsman Center.
For a moment Wednesday, Jones was the freshman that made a late-game mistake that kept the Utes from taking their first lead after trailing by as much as 16 points in the second half. With just over 30 seconds left after Utah had cut the Cougars’ lead to one, Jones faked out his defender under the basket and had a clear layup from the left side to take the lead. But Jones' shot fell short and missed.
The Cougars would grab the rebound and eventually made two free throws on the other end of the court to extend their lead to three. But shaking off his previous gaffe, Jones came up big for the Utes and hit a 3-pointer with 22 seconds left in regulation to tie up the game 86-86.
The score would hold as the rivals went into overtime.
“I was pretty mad for about 10 seconds and then Timmy (Allen) told me: 'Keep your head up, just worry about the next play,'” Jones told media after the game. “He told me I was gonna get another chance, and I did. He made a great drive, threw it to Both (Gach) and Both gave it one more to me and I knocked it in. Just staying in the moment and don't dwell on the past.”
Jones took charge in overtime and scored 8 points that were capped off by four consecutive free throws to outshoot the Cougars 16-9 in the extra-time period. The two-time winning Utah Mr. Basketball and Utah Gatorade Player of the Year in 2019 finished the game as the team’s second-leading scorer with 25 points, six assists and three rebounds.
For his first rivalry matchup, Jones looked the part and cemented his name in the series’ history.
“It's just a feeling that you can't really describe,” Jones said about playing in his first rivalry game. “I've sat in the stands for many of the games. I'm like 'Wow, that would be so fun to play in.' And then you get out there and it's completely different than what you expected. I just try to have fun and play with my guys the right away and we got the victory.”
And though he still has more to learn and develop as a player, his coaches have trust in him to lead the charge as the team’s starting point guard.
“I think he's an absolute warrior,” Utah head coach Larry Kryskowiak said. “Number one, he understands the game real well. And oftentimes he makes the play that gets presented to him, he doesn't get sped up. Just a real solid point guard and obviously makes us coaches a lot better when you have somebody in there that can dictate some things and make some reads.
“He was a big part of it, as were a lot of the other guys, but he's a special kid.”
Less than a year earlier, Jones was a senior at Olympus High in Holladay as a decorated athlete. His team had reached the championship game his sophomore and junior season and a semifinal finish his senior season. As a junior, Jones led his team to a 5A state title over Corner Canyon behind a 24 point, six rebound, six assist effort.
The former four-star legacy recruit was one of the best athletes to come out of the state of Utah as a prolific scorer and dynamic guard. His court vision allowed him in high school to split defenses and set up teammates with easier buckets. But Jones had no problem scoring points either.
Now he’s doing it at the collegiate level on a young team where he’s the court general. He’s already claimed a triple-double this season and beat his rival.
But Jones is just getting started.