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UNLV vs. Morehead State final score: Rebels squeak out a win over Eagles in season opener

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Rashad Vaughn hit the biggest shot and scored 26 points in his first game as a Rebel, but it was a 1-2-2 zone defense that won the game for UNLV.

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

LAS VEGAS – Rashad Vaughn was the only Rebel that could score consistently, but his 26 points combined with a 1-2-2 zone defense that stifled Morehead State was enough to give UNLV a season-opening win.

"He’s a guy who feels it. He wants the ball. He wants to take big shots," Dave Rice said of Vaughn

In his collegiate debut, Vaughn shined bright on offense. His 26 points came on 8-of-18 shooting, including the game-winning three that put UNLV up 60-57 with just over a minute left. Vaughn had seven boards, but his most important stat was getting to the line, as he went 8 of 11 on free throws.

The 1-2-2 zone that Rice and his staff call Vegas flipped the game in UNLV’s favor in the second half. The last 10 minutes saw UNLV play zone exclusively, which kept Morehead State out of the paint. The Eagles had 20 points in the paint in the first half, but only mustered two in the final 20 minutes. After scoring 34 points on 30 first half offensive possessions, the Eagle offense only got to 23 points on 29 second half possessions.

"We’ve worked on our zone extremely hard," Rice said. "Our length gives us a chance. We got quick big guys. Goodluck, Dwayne Morgan and Chris Wood, they can all get out and cover the corners."

Box Score Highlights

  • Goodluck Okonoboh should really change his late name to OkonoBLOCK as he swatted seven shots in his first game for the Runnin’ Rebels. He was also 2 of 3 from the floor with four points and five rebounds.
  • Patrick McCaw was a team best +17, but Cody Doolin’s +/- was the most important. UNLV was +11 with Doolin on the floor and -10 in the seven minutes he was on the bench.
  • Doolin played the entire second half.
  • Chris Wood had an inefficient start to the season as he scored 12 points on 4-of-12 shooting. He was 4 of 5 at the free throw line and grabbed 12 rebounds and four blocks.
  • UNLV shot 27 free throws – a good number. But the Runnin’ Rebels only made 59 percent.
  • Only three players came off the bench giving UNLV an eight-man rotation. Jordan Cornish and Dantley Walker did not play.
  • Morehead State grabbed 18 offensive rebounds or 36.7 percent of their own misses. That’s a high total, but not too big of a percentage. Last season UNLV opponents grabbed 30 percent of their own misses.

Quotable

"Yeah it was amazing playing in the Mack in front of all those fans. I didn’t think it was going to turn out to be that many people, but it was a blessing. It was fun," Rashad Vaughn said of his first college game.

"Those are the games that are the most fun, when you can have a pretty large effect on the game and never shoot the ball," Doolin said of his seven assist, 1 field goal attempt night.

"That was really brave, the last shot he took," Doolin said of Vaughn’s three with less than two minutes to play. "He missed the two shots before, and I’ve played a lot of college basketball, I would have been really hesitant to shoot that one. It was just a big shot."

"I don’t really think about it. Just open, shoot it," Vaughn said of his game-winner.

Analysis

That 1-2-2 Vegas defense was incredible. It completely flustered Morehead State. But it also slowed the game way down as each team had seven less possessions in the second half. If the zone is that effective, UNLV will be an extremely efficient defense, but the Rebels won’t be running as much.

Another factor in the slowed down pace was Morehead State also went exclusively to zone in the second half. UNLV struggled, but Rice drew up some tremendous out-of-timeout plays. Plus Patrick McCaw drained two big threes to help beat the zone.

Cody Doolin’s only basket came off a tremendous move. He spun while receiving a high ball screen to get free for an open shot.

Combining UNLV’s lack of front court players and the potential to see more zone defense, the Runnin’ Rebels could get beat badly on the boards in a lot of games this season.

UNLV stayed in the zone for the final possession, and it created a tough scoring chance for Morehead State. Credit to Rice for sicking with the zone when so many coaches would have gone back to man defense for the final possession.

Video

Dave Rice's opening statement

Rashad Vaughn and Cody Doolin after the season-opening win

What’s Next

In a short turnaround, UNLV will host Sam Houston State on Sunday at 5 p.m. Like Morehead State, this game is a part of the Coaches vs Cancer Classic.

Sam Houston State won its season opener over Austin College 100-52 on Friday. The Bearkats won 24 games last season and fell in the Southland Conference title game to Stephen F. Austin.