After his team pulled out a 60-59 season opening win over Morehead State on Friday night, UNLV coach Dave Rice was somewhat philosophical as he started his press conference.
“It’s amazing in sports what a difference one point or one stop makes,” Rice said.
He probably could have added a dependable point guard, too.
Senior Cody Doolin, a transfer from San Francisco, was terrific down the stretch as the Runnin’ Rebels rallied from an early 11-point second half deficit and held on to edge the Eagles before an enthusiastic crowd of 12,582 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Freshman guard Rashad Vaughn scored a game-high 26 points, including a 3-pointer from the right corner with 1:06 left that broke a 57-57 tie and proved to be the game-winner while sophomore forward Christian Wood registered a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds to go along with four blocks. And freshman forward Goodluck Okonoboh was a force inside with seven blocks and five rebounds to help lead the Rebels (1-0).
But it was the leadership and play of Doolin, who finished with a modest stat line of three points, six rebounds and seven assists, that was difference for a UNLV team that sadly lacked direction on the floor for much of a disappointing 20-13 campaign last season.
“Cody Doolin was the leader we recruited him to be,” Rice said simply.
(CHECK OUT BARRY WONG’S VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS BELOW)
In the final seven minutes, Doolin drove and dished off to Wood for a pair of dunks, set up for Vaughn for a layup, drove and scored a basket and also took a key charge on a hard drive by Morehead State guard Angelo Warner, who led the Eagles with 21 points.
And with the Rebels clinging to a 60-59 lead in the final seconds, Doolin collapsed on a driving Warner who missed a short floater that was rebounded by Wood at the buzzer.
“I think it was a great win first and foremost,” Doolin said. “Any time you score 60 points and win, you’ve got to grind it out.”
And what about his defense on the final play?
“We wanted not to foul,” he said. “We just kind of funneled him down to the big men inside. Christian Wood then did a great job getting the rebound. … I thought down the stretch we made a lot of toughness plays.”
Vaughn finished 8-of-18 from the floor, including just 2-of-8 from 3-point range, but hit the game-winner from the right corner.
(Jelan Kendrick) found me in the corner,” Vaughn said. “My teammates gave me confidence because I had missed my last two shots and they said to keep shooting. I just wanted to do whatever it took to win. I was open so I took it.”
“It was just a big-time shot,” Doolin said. “It showed what kind of player he is.”
UNLV gets only a day to enjoy the victory. The Rebels have what figures to be another nail-biter on deck Sunday when they host Sam Houston State at 5 p.m. at the Thomas & Mack.
PHOTO BY JEREMY RINCON