Published Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017 | 8:05 p.m.
Updated Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017 | 11:35 p.m.
UNLV imposed its will on Utah over the final 20 minutes and pulled away for an impressive 85-58 win in the championship game of the MGM Main Event.
Brandon McCoy was limited by foul trouble in the first half, but the 7-foot freshman dominated after the break, finishing with 26 points and 17 rebounds.
Jovan Mooring scored nine straight points for the Rebels at one point in the second half and finished with 19 points and two assists. Jordan Johnson scored 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting.
Utah simply could not handle UNLV's size on the inside. The Rebels finished with an 46-30 advantage in rebounds and a 20-6 advantage in second-chance points. For the game, Utah shot just 35.0 percent from the field.
UNLV is now 5-0, and after blowing out a pretty good Utah team, it's clear the rebuilt Rebels are for real.
Rebels running away from Utah, 65-41
To say Jovan Mooring got hot would be an understatement. The senior guard scored nine points in a row—with a high degree of difficulty—and UNLV has stretched its lead over Utah to 65-41 with 10:56 remaining.
Mooring started the heater with a running floater on the baseline. On the next possession, he stuck a pull-up 3 from the wing. After a defensive stop, Mooring pump-faked his defender in the corner, drew the foul and knocked down the long 2-point shot. He missed the and-1 free throw, but made up for it on the next possession by hitting a short bank shot.
Mooring now has a game-high 19 points, while senior backcourt partner Jordan Johnson has 18.
With 11 minutes remaining, it looks like UNLV is on its way to a resounding statement victory.
UNLV leads Utah at half, 43-33
Kris Clyburn snuck in for a nifty putback at the buzzer, and UNLV has a 43-33 lead over Utah at the half.
The Rebels closed the half on a 19-10 run, which was doubly impressive as UNLV was without its two star big men for the final seven minutes. Brandon McCoy and Shakur Juiston were sidelined by foul trouble, but UNLV received quality minutes from reserve bigs Cheickna Dembele and Mbacke Diong.
Jordan Johnson was also responsible for building the lead, as the senior point guard scored a team-high 12 points while playing the entire 20 minutes.
Utah has played strong under the rim, scoring 14 points in the paint and drawing multiple fouls on McCoy and Juiston, but the Utes have struggled with their outside shot. As a team, Utah is just 2-of-11 from 3-point range.
Can UNLV close out Utah over the final 20 minutes and score the program's most impressive win in two years? The foul status of McCoy and Juiston (two personals apiece) could play a huge role.
UNLV leads Utah midway through first half
The pace has slowed considerably as fouls have piled up on both sides, but UNLV is still holding a 23-21 lead with 7:47 remaining in the first half.
Brandon McCoy just banked home a pass from Jovan Mooring and drew a foul on the finish, earning an and-1 opportunity. He'll shoot the free throw after the under-8 timeout, but for now McCoy is leading UNLV with nine points and seven rebounds.
Neither team has shot the ball well from the perimeter—Utah and UNLV are both 1-of-7 from 3-point range—so both squads have started banging under the basket. With McCoy, the Rebels may have an advantage there as the game goes on.
UNLV takes early lead over Utah
Through eight minutes, UNLV doesn't just look like it can compete with Utah—the Rebels have looked better, carving out a 16-10 lead with 11:58 left in the first half.
Brandon McCoy has been a force down low, producing five points, six rebounds and a pair of blocks. Frontcourt partner Shakur Juiston has four points, one rebound and a steal that he converted into a breakaway layup.
In this measuring-stick game, so far it looks like UNLV is up to the challenge.
Three keys for UNLV basketball against Utah
UNLV will get its first true test tonight, facing Utah in the championship game of the MGM Main Event (9:30 p.m., ESPN 2). Are the Rebels ready? After leveling Rice, 95-68, on Monday, it appears so.
Three keys to watch as UNLV tries to improve to 5-0 on the season:
Bigs vs. bigs
UNLV has overpowered opponents in the paint this season behind the dominating duo of freshman center Brandon McCoy (20.0 points, 11.8 rebounds per game) and power forward Shakur Juiston (13.2 points, 14.8 rebounds), but Utah has two sizable forwards who should be able to body up in senior center David Collette (13.8 points, 5.0 rebounds) and senior forward Tyler Rawson (11.8 points, 7.8 rebounds). The pair that wins the battle under the basket could also end up winning the game.
UNLV isn’t a prolific 3-point shooting team, averaging just 7.0 makes per game, and so far that's been fine. With McCoy and Juiston owning the interior, the Rebels haven’t had to make it rain yet this season. But in close games, 3-pointers can be huge difference-makers that swing momentum down the stretch. Utah is capable of getting hot from the arc (9.5 3-point field goals per game), with Justin Bibbins in particular posing a threat (43.8 percent from beyond the arc). If Utah starts swishing 3's, can the Rebels keep pace? This may be a game where UNLV needs Jovan Mooring to hit a handful from deep.
UNLV hasn’t played a team as good as Utah this season—not even close, really. Will the Rebels need some time to adapt to the level of competition? If they fall behind early, will they be capable of playing their way back into the game? And will Marvin Menzies' blended system of pace and post-play work against an NCAA tournament-caliber opponent? This is the first measuring-stick game for UNLV; if the Rebels play well tonight—and especially if they win—it should bode really well for their own postseason chances.