Runnin’ Rebels win another nail-biter

Two wins. Zero losses.

Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Just ask UNLV senior point guard Cody Doolin.

The Runnin’ Rebels improved to 2-0 on Sunday night with a hold-your-breath 59-57 victory over Sam Houston State that had more than its share of warts. But the bottom line afterward is a young freshman-laden UNLV squad will be headed to New York for Friday night’s game against Stanford still undefeated.

“I think it’s huge,” Doolin, who finished with 10 points, seven assists, three steals and two turnovers said of sweeping the first two games of the season by a combined three points. “Any win in Division I college basketball is big. … It’s awesome to be 2-0.”

Not so awesome was the stat sheet afterward.

UNLV won despite shooting a dreadful 44.4 percent (12-of-27) from the free throw line, including 31.6 percent (5-of-16) in the second half. The Rebels were also outrebounded, 53-39, and gave up 20 offensive rebounds. This against a veteran Bearkats squad expected to contend for the Southland, not Southeastern, Conference title.

“We have some stuff we have to work on with regards to our offense but once again I thought we absolutely shut them down on defense,” Doolin said. “Our defense was phenomenal and carried us again tonight.”

That it was. Sam Houston State shot just 30.4 percent (21-of-69) from the floor and 25 percent (9-of-36) from 3-point range. The Bearkats had a chance to win it at the end but guard Dakarai Henderson’s 3-pointer from the left corner was well defended by a fast-closing Dwayne Morgan and bounced off the back of the rim just before the final buzzer (See VIDEO package above).

Freshman center Goodluck Okonoboh once again was a beast around the basket, blocking six shots and grabbing a team-high 10 rebounds to go along with six points. He already has 13 blocks in two games.

“Not really,” Okonoboh said with a smile when asked if he was surprised. “That’s what I do.”

The Rebels, who trailed 39-28 early in the second half, went on a 26-8 run over a 12-minute span to pull ahead 54-47 as the Bearkats struggled against their 1-2-2 zone. Freshman guard Rashad Vaughn led the way with a game-high 18 points, 16 of which came in the second half.

However, UNLV almost blew it at the end thanks to some very poor free throw shooting.

“They did get some good looks down the stretch,” Doolin, who finished 2-of-7 at the line, said. “But between me and Rashad ,we just make our free throws it doesn’t quite come down to that. Me and Rashad (2-of-5) need to work on our free throws. It was poor down the stretch.

“I think we proved that we can win ugly. I think that is really important.”

“My old coach used to tell me a win is a win,” Okonoboh added. “Obviously we have a lot of things we need to work on to get better.”

UNLV returns to action on Friday night (4 p.m., truTV) when it faces Stanford (2-0) in the semifinals of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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