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Hot first half fuels Weber State basketball to beat Portland State 84-72

Dillon Jones moves past Damian Lillard for 2nd place in career assists

By BRETT HEIN - Standard-Examiner | Feb 8, 2024
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Weber State's Dillon Jones (2) drives against Portland State on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Ogden.
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Weber State's Blaise Threatt (0) rises for a layup against Portland State on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Ogden.
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Weber State's Alex Tew (20) shoots a layup against Portland State on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Ogden.
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Weber State's Blaise Threatt (0) shoots against Portland State's KJ Allen (3) on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Ogden.

OGDEN — The stat line is hard to ignore for Weber State men’s basketball star Dillon Jones but, in a helter-skelter game typical of most against Portland State, and with the Wildcats in foul trouble, it was junior forward Dyson Koehler who made game-winning plays.

With Jones and starting center Alex Tew each saddled with four fouls, Koehler scored twice at the rim while being fouled and knocked down a monumental 3-pointer, helping the Wildcats to an 84-72 win over the Vikings on Thursday night at the Dee Events Center.

For his part, Jones racked up 20 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and three steals — and his final two assists keyed the final blows to Portland State’s desperate comeback bid after WSU scorched PSU 45-26 in the first half.

Koehler’s two paint buckets and one free throw helped Weber State play to an 8-8 knot in the 4 minutes and 6 seconds Jones sat on the bench, keeping the Wildcats up 69-55 with 5:19 to play.

Two missed field goals and two missed free throws later, Portland State had the game to 70-61. But Jones, back in the action, held the ball near the paint and drew in the Vikings’ defense.

As Jones passed to Koehler on the opposite wing, PSU guard Isiah Kirby stumbled attempting a closeout, so Koehler confidently pounded one dribble and stepped into a smooth triple for a 73-61 score with 4:08 left.

“Coaches and my teammates have confidence in me to make the shot, so I stepped up and shot it,” Koehler said.

That assist moved Jones past Damian Lillard into second place on WSU’s career leaderboard, unofficially the modern-day program record. Jones now has 364 assists; Mark Mattos (1976-80) is WSU’s assist king with 642.

Said foul trouble led to what WSU head coach Eric Duft called “soft” defense as Jones and Tew tried to remain in the game, and Portland State shot 15 of 28 on two-pointers in the second half to keep the pressure on.

But in the final four minutes, Weber State tightened up for three stops and shot 7 of 8 from the foul line (the Wildcats were 12 of 22 before that) to keep the margin.

With 2:12 left, KJ Cunningham rebounded a missed Keshaun Saunders layup, threw to Jones who ran a fast break, and Jones dished to Steven Verplancken Jr. for a layup — putting the game away at 80-67.

Koehler finished with 17 points and six rebounds, shooting 3 of 4 from distance. Blaise Threatt added 14 points, and Verplancken pitched in 12 for Weber State (15-9, 6-5 Big Sky).

In the middle, Tew finished with two points, three rebounds and four blocks. Sophomore Handje Tamba played 13 relief minutes at center, blocking three more shots and, crucially, going 3 of 3 from the foul line. Tamba toed the line and made two free throws after a 16-6 PSU run cut the margin to 10 points with 11 minutes left.

Cunningham added eight points and four rebounds.

For Portland State (14-10, 5-6), Isaiah Johnson led with 20 points — with an aggressive 15 in the second half preying on WSU’s foul trouble — and KJ Allen added 14 points. Bobby Harvey was the only Viking to make multiple 3s (2 of 6) as PSU finished 4 of 15 from distance.

After a wild January game in Portland saw WSU get down 24 points and get the deficit back to one point late before losing, the Wildcats took full control and turned in possibly their best half of basketball to open Thursday’s game.

Weber State raced to a 30-8 advantage in the first 11 minutes. WSU stifled Portland State’s half-court offense to 10-of-34 shooting, which Koehler credited to the game plan of assistant coach Jorge Ruiz, and were the aggressors offensively to put Viking defenders a step behind for most of the frame.

“They press when they make shots so, to avoid the press, you make them miss,” Koehler said. “We were really focused on the scout and what their plays were.”

Koehler knocked down a 3 for a 20-6 lead, hit again from deep after a timeout, Viljami Vartiainen splashed a triple on a pass from Jones, then Jones drove behind his back and scored at the rim to cap a 10-0 run for the 30-8 lead.

The Wildcats shot 18 of 27 in the first half, making seven 3-pointers.

Jones knocked in a dead-eye 3 early in the second half to make it 51-31 with 16:42 left and WSU was 8 of 11 from downtown at that point. But WSU quickly had four fouls as a team, Jones, Threatt and Tew each had three personals, and Portland State increased its on-ball pressure to stay in the game.

The contest quickly devolved into a physical, foul-filled match that eventually saw 27 fouls whistled and 38 free throws attempted in the second half alone.

Portland State’s usual, frenzied effort on the offensive glass netted the Vikings 17 offensive rebounds, creating 16 more field goal attempts than WSU. Weber State weathered that by holding PSU to 17 second-chance points and only 12 points off 12 turnovers. Live-ball turnovers are ultimately what cost WSU in the January loss at PSU.

“We didn’t turn it over against the press so they could get it, dunk it, and get right back in the press and get momentum going,” Duft said.

Weber State next hosts Sacramento State (6-18, 2-9) on Saturday night.

WSU 67, PSU 46

Weber State women’s basketball stopped a four-game losing streak by hammering conference-winless Portland State on the road.

Jadyn Matthews and Daryn Hickok each scored 18 points to lead Weber State (7-17, 4-7 Big Sky). Laura Taylor added eight points, eight rebounds and three assists while knocking down a pair of 3s.

The Wildcats shot 45.8% and held PSU to 29% shooting.


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