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Threatt the desired threat, Koehler surging as Weber State finds new ways to win

Jones' star power now boosted on WSU basketball roster

By BRETT HEIN - Standard-Examiner | Jan 5, 2024

Freddie Lacey, WSU Athletics

Weber State guard Blaise Threatt (0) drives past South Dakota State's Matt Mims (1) on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, in Ogden.

OGDEN — After a poor start, Weber State men’s basketball figured some things out last season, leading to a 12-6 Big Sky finish and a double-overtime semifinal battle with — given what its transferred players have done elsewhere this season — a more talented Montana State team.

But a lot of that, outside of sharpshooter Steven Verplancken Jr., depended on Dillon Jones to carry the offensive load, especially in the team’s biggest games. The star forward, for example, averaged 21.5 field goal attempts per game in last season’s conference tournament.

Wednesday’s win over South Dakota State emphasized the growing offensive abilities of this season’s team, brought about by internal improvement and external addition.

Jones attempted just 12 field goals against the Jackrabbits and Verplancken — who entered Wednesday’s game shooting better than 50% from 3 in the last seven games — was 1 of 12 from the field, including a 0-for-8 mark from the 3-point line. On last season’s team, those numbers would’ve meant certain doom.

But WSU led Wednesday’s game for the majority of the contest and enjoyed a double-digit lead for large stretches. Sure, the late SDSU run led to Jones’ exciting, buzzer-beating winner, but everything before that and in the six games prior showed the Wildcats are working on something different this season.

Freddie Lacey, WSU Athletics

Weber State's Dyson Koehler (4) shoots against South Dakota State's Zeke Mayo (2) on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, in Ogden.

One of the most obvious differences is the addition of junior point guard Blaise Threatt. The 6-foot-3 transfer from Colorado Mesa has been every bit the playmaker hoped for when WSU recruited him from the Division II ranks.

Coaches named Threatt the starting point guard on Dec. 13 and, in the last seven games, he’s averaged 13.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game while shooting exactly 63.6% from the field and the 3-point line.

“I know my shots are going to fall because I put in so much work, so I just have to stay ready, stay confident. Dill is going to attract so much attention so … I just have to focus on shooting my shots and playing my game,” Threatt said. “That’s all I’m really worried about is impacting the game any way I can.”

Wednesday, Threatt surged to 17 points while shooting 4 of 4 from behind the arc. While shooting perfectly from deep in that game, Threatt also got to the rim and scored a key layup late, WSU’s only points in a 15-2 SDSU run.

It’s the kind of play — even better, with more playmakers around him — WSU hoped for after Threatt shot 52.8% overall and 45.2% from 3 last season at Colorado Mesa.

“He doesn’t usually take a high volume of 3s but he’s more than capable, and getting downhill and getting the rim is where he really excels,” WSU head coach Eric Duft said about Threatt. “But he can do both, and that’s why he’s a good player.”

In previous games, like the two blowout wins over the Montana schools, he consistently beat his defender into the paint, leading to his own layups, lobs or dishes to big man Alex Tew, or kickout passes to open 3-point shooters.

“He collapses the defense,” as Duft puts it.

One of those shooters is junior forward Dyson Koehler, and his year-to-year improvement has certainly wrestled for attention in recent games as well. He’s currently averaging career-highs with 9.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. His season start was slow but, in those same seven recent games, Koehler is averaging 12.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on 77.8% two-point shooting and 46.4% from the 3-point line.

Add true freshman shooting guard Viljami Vartiainen, who knocked down a pair of 3-pointers Wednesday, and there’s a reason WSU still scored at a high clip against a paint-protecting South Dakota State team despite Verplancken’s hot streak hitting an icy patch. In the first seven games of the season, Vartiainen shot 3 of 20 (15%) from deep; in the seven games since, he’s 11 of 24 (45.8%).

That’s how last season’s team ranked 276th in offensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers, while this season’s team sits at 87th nationally headed to its Saturday matchup against Oral Roberts. The offense is considerably more dynamic and healthy.

That’s all to say nothing about Jones, who wowed pro scouts Wednesday even despite missing five minutes of action to get his knee checked out in the locker room. He only took 12 shots but made nine, including splashing in four first-half 3-pointers.

Jones’ ball-handling responsibilities are not significantly less than they were last season, but his numbers look like this in comparison: points are up 2.1 per game, assists up 1 per game, field-goal shooting is up 3.2% and 3-point shooting is up 11.6%, while turnovers are down 0.8 per game.

And, when you watch the games, it’s his playmaking and passing that really pops. Jones tallied nine assists against South Dakota State, tying his career-high from one month prior and, had Verplancken and KJ Cunningham not shot a combined 0 of 12 from the 3-point line, that number certainly could have been 13 or more.

The Jackrabbits simply had no idea how to defend WSU once Jones got the ball inside the arc, whether off the dribble or thrown to him in the high post, and they’re not the only team to experience this version of Jones. In that same seven-game window, he’s averaging 6.6 assists per game to 2.3 turnovers while shooting 50% from the floor and 47.8% from deep.

“I think it’s a true testament to who I am as a player, so many different facets. And I say that as humbly as possible,” Jones said. “I don’t fight the game, I trust the game. Pass the ball when it’s the right play … trust my teammates. And I say that genuinely. People think the best player, it’s got to be in my hands, I’ve got to take over and things like that but, honestly, I just rely on my teammates as much as possible.”

No wonder Weber State is 6-1 in those seven games, with its only loss to a 13-1 Nevada team that ranks 34th in defensive efficiency and in the NCAA’s NET ranking.

“Our good teams here, our championship teams, we’ve had guys that when a couple are struggling, other guys step up,” Duft said. “It’s not like Jeremy Senglin, Dev Berry, Damian Lillard, Joel Bolomboy played great every single night. There’s a lot of games in Division I basketball and when guys you’re counting on aren’t playing well, somebody else has to step up.”

The Wildcats (10-4) are not a perfect bunch, by any means. Wednesday’s game showed both strengths and vulnerabilities for this year’s team. But there are more indicators that, especially compared to last season’s grind-it-out, Jones-gets-late-buckets offense, WSU is working on something that could provide a breakthrough in results.

“It’s what, Jan. 3? It’s so early,” Jones said after Wednesday’s win. “We’ve still got a lot of improvement to do on our team but we’re on the up … I think we’ll be able to learn from the things we learned tonight and bounce back the next night.”

WSU’s game at Oral Roberts (7-7) tips at 7 p.m. CST/6 p.m. MST and airs on CBS Sports Network. The Golden Eagles have the nation’s longest home winning streak at 21 games.


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