Friday, Nov. 17, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Jovan Mooring has always been known for his offense, from his days as a high school star in Chicago, to the year he scored 26 points per game in junior college, to last year when he led UNLV in scoring (12.6 points per game) and field goal attempts (9.7 per game).
The senior guard still has the ability to fill it up, as evidenced by his 21-point performance on opening night. But the aspect of his game that should be drawing more attention this season is his work on the defensive end.
Mooring was a solid defender last season. He averaged 1.1 steals per game and held opponents to 37.2 percent from the field, and he generally put forth good effort. Through two games this season, however, Mooring has taken his defense to a new level.
He was particularly tremendous in UNLV’s 98-63 win over Prairie View A&M on Wednesday. Though Mooring finished with two steals, his defensive impact was felt beyond the box score.
On one of the first possessions of the game, Mooring forced a turnover by contesting a simple pass and forcing his man into an awkward catch and travel:
A few possessions later, he forced another turnover by fighting through a pick on the wing and drawing contact from the screener:
Less than a minute later, he contested a cross-court pass and deflected it out of bounds off a Prairie View player, generating yet another turnover:
None of those three plays go onto the stat sheet as a steal, but Mooring’s energy, awareness and commitment to defense earned UNLV three extra possessions.
About a minute after forcing his third turnover of the game, Mooring shot the gap on a swing pass and almost intercepted it. He didn’t come up with it cleanly, however, so he vaulted over the UNLV bench in an attempt to chase the ball down:
Shortly after crashing into the crowd, Mooring was back at it, contesting a pass to the corner and clawing the ball away for a steal. After digging the ball out, he quickly surged upcourt and found Amauri Hardy for a fast-break layup:
Later in the first half, Mooring showed off his on-ball defensive chops. Using good footwork and his long arms, he cut off a Prairie View ball-handler twice, then made a difficult shot even harder by challenging the release.
After harassing the shooter into a miss, Mooring quickly transitioned to offense and knocked down a 3-pointer:
Toward the end of the first half, Mooring made yet another impact play by turning good defense into efficient offense. Much like his earlier over-the-bench play, he shot the gap on a swing pass, but the second time he picked it off cleanly. After alertly getting his feet back in bounds, he pushed the ball before finding freshman Brandon McCoy for a loud dunk:
Mooring’s defensive clinic continued into the second half. A few minutes after the break, he showed tremendous effort by running through a hard pick, recovering, then continuing to defend after a Prairie View offensive rebound. On the second effort, Mooring stayed in front of his man and eventually drew an offensive foul:
Later in the second half, Mooring made his most ridiculous defensive play of the game. Backing up in transition, he stepped in front of a Prairie View ball-handler and took a full-speed charge under the basket:
There were six minutes left and UNLV was ahead by 32 points when Mooring took that charge. That’s the kind of toughness that will resonate with teammates when Mooring implores them to play defense throughout the season.
Mooring said he didn’t think about how much it would hurt to absorb the collision, just how much an additional possession could help his team.
“Turnover,” Mooring said when asked why he’d take that kind of abuse with the game already decided. “I want the ball, so whatever it takes to get my team an extra possession, I’m going to do it.”
In addition to the above plays, Mooring also produced a turnover in the first half by challenging an inbounds pass after a made basket, forcing Prairie View into a violation. The play wasn’t captured on video, but it brought Mooring’s tally to seven turnovers forced for the game — though only two officially made it into the box score as steals.
Marvin Menzies said Mooring has become more of a leader this season, and that his commitment on the defensive end is something he is trying to pass on to his teammates.
“He’s grown a lot,” Menzies said, “especially in the area of understanding what we’re doing [on defense]. So it’s easier for him to help the younger guys. He’s taken on some of that leadership responsibility, just in instruction in practice and talking to the younger guys, so it’s good to see his growth.”
Can Mooring continue to have such a huge defensive impact throughout the rest of the season? The Rebels will play better offensive teams than Prairie View, so the results may not always be so obvious and game-changing. But Mooring’s effort is the story now. For someone with the reputation of a gunner, he has turned himself into a hard-nosed defender whose toughness can’t be questioned.
“I worked on my defense a lot over the offseason,” Mooring said, “and I want that to be one of my staples going forward.”