Friday, Nov. 14, 2014 | 11:30 p.m.
On this episode of UNLV's Got Talent, Rebels beat writer Taylor Bern tells colleagues Ray Brewer and Case Keefer why they need to stop using that word as the go-to for UNLV's basketball program.
Dave Rice could barely wait to start his first postgame press conference of the 2014-15 season. The Rebels’ needed a defensive stop in the final seconds to hold off an impressive Morehead State team, and Rice felt fortunate to be on the right side of a game that could have gone either way.
“It’s amazing what a difference one point makes or one stop makes,” he said.
Or one player.
There were many reasons UNLV overcame an 11-point second-half deficit to win 60-59, but none were bigger than senior point guard Cody Doolin. He only made one shot — a big one in the final five minutes — but it was everything else that made it clear Doolin is capable of filling the role of UNLV’s missing piece.
Doolin had his hand in almost every significant play of the second half, including the final one. With 10.9 seconds remaining, the Rebels came out in the zone defense that had helped them climb back into the game. When Morehead State’s Angelo Warner drove to the basket for the Eagles’ final shot, it was Doolin putting two hands on the ball and forcing an ugly attempt that sophomore Christian Wood corralled to seal the game.
The chants of “Co-dy” had already chorused out of the Rebellion and it won’t be the last time.
“It was rocking in there,” Doolin said. “I had a great time.”
In his collegiate debut, freshman Rashad Vaughn poured in 26 points, including a corner 3 with 1:06 remaining to put the Rebels ahead 60-57. Vaughn had missed his previous two shots and struggled to a 2-for-8 shooting night behind the arc, but when he was open there was no hesitation.
“I knew it was good,” Vaughn said.
Wood’s output was inconsistent, yet at the end he had 12 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks in 31 minutes. Fellow forward Goodluck Okonoboh was an energetic force in the post in his debut, blocking seven shots and anchoring the Rebels’ zone defense.
Almost everything good that happened, though, occurred when Doolin was on the court. He was the key.
“He kept saying at every timeout, ‘We’re winning this game. We’re going to get a stop. We’re going to win,’” Rice said of Doolin.
The Rebels led by six before Doolin picked up his second foul in the first half and went to the bench. Three and a half minutes later he came back in facing a five-point deficit. Obviously, the Rebels must learn to stay more composed without Doolin on the floor, but he can help himself out, too.
“I told him I was mad he’s fouling,” said Vaughn. “… He’s our leader. When he’s off the floor it’s a big difference.”
Rice echoed that sentiment, pointing out that UNLV doesn’t need Doolin putting himself at risk when they’ve got a backline of Okonoboh, Wood and freshman Dwayne Morgan combining for 12 blocks.
Overall it was a solid debut for the Rebels’ four freshmen who got in the game. In addition to Vaughn, Okonoboh and Morgan, Patrick McCaw hit a couple of big 3s during UNLV’s rally and played four positions during his 23 minutes.
The game wouldn’t have been close if UNLV either shot the ball better — 22.2 percent on 3s, 59.3 percent on free throws — or didn’t get lost on defense, but one game into the season those are understandable mistakes. Rice doubled down on the Rebels’ shooting, saying he knows it’s going to get better, and UNLV’s young guys especially were always going to make some mistakes as they get adjusted to this level.
As Rice started talking about Doolin, the fourth-year coach thought back to some of their conversations when Doolin was looking to transfer out of San Francisco. One of the first things Doolin told him was that he doesn’t like to shoot.
“I always think those are the games that are the most fun, when you feel like you can have a pretty large effect on the game and never shoot the ball,” Doolin said. “I always liked players who could do that.”
His final line — seven assists, six rebounds, one shot — backs that up, though everyone agreed they’d be just fine if Doolin would take a couple more shots. In fact, through one game everyone from the Rebels’ bench to the 12,582 people in attendance wanted more Doolin in every way, shape and form.
“Cody Doolin was the leader that we recruited him to be,” Rice said.