After Loudon Love pulled down the rebound with one hand because Northern Kentucky’s Drew McDonald had hooked his other arm and was holding it down – after the referee’s whistled a Flagrant 1 foul and the large, revved-up Nutter Center crowd cheered wildly and Love responded with a biceps-bulging muscle pose – Parker Ernsthausen knew his job was done.
At that very moment—with just 23.5 seconds left and Wright State about to muscle aside NKU, 81-77, for its eighth win in nine games and a share of the Horizon League lead with the Norse – Love did look like the Horizon League Player of the Year.
But early in the game, the 6-foot-9, 270-pound sophomore center looked nothing like a player worthy of a pedestal.
“I think Loudon would tell you himself,” Raiders coach Scott Nagy said. “Honestly, he did not play great. There were a lot of times early in the game where he was just kind of floating around. He didn’t have great focus.”
Raiders guard Bill Wampler – who came off the bench to score a game-high 29 points, including 13 in a row late in the first half – agreed: “He was kind of lulling around in the first half.”
Later, Love tried to explain what was going on during the first part of the Horizon League showdown with the Norse:
“Sometimes it just takes a second to adjust. I think I was a little hesitant at first because the last time we played them I was in foul trouble in the first half. Then tonight I made my first roll and got a questionable charging foul.”
That came less than three minutes into the game and Love said it bothered him:
“I was kind of worried and it kind of stayed with me through the first half.”
As Love floated, the Raiders failed and with 5:50 left in the half, WSU trailed by 16 points (40-24.)
Wright State needed its big man to rise to the moment, especially on this night as he went up against McDonald, whom at 6-foot-8, 250 pounds, is of similar size and came in with much more billing.
For the second straight season, McDonald was picked as the conference’s preseason player of the year. He’s already won All Horizon League first team honors two years in a row, has had 12 double doubles this season and over his four-year career at NKU, he’s scored 1,949 points and grabbed 1,029 rebounds.
It was with all that in mind that Ernsthausen, WSU’s 6-foot-11, fifth-year senior, said he went to work on “Big Lou,” as the team calls Love, in a timeout huddle with 2:50 left in the first half:
“I looked at Big Lou and said ‘I need the Player of the Year Big Lou for the rest of the game!’”
Other Raiders tried different tactics.
“I try to push the right buttons for him so I’ll yell and shove him,” Wampler grinned. “That’s the best way for me to get him going. I try getting in his face and amping him up as much as I can.”
Nagy admitted: “ I kinda got on him at halftime about it.”
But nobody has Love’s ear like Ernsthausen.
Call him the Big Lou Whisperer.
“He was yellin’ on my free throws at the end, too,” Love laughed. “We went from my redshirt year where he was taking a charge from me almost every time I went in there. It’s that kinda deal. We fight each other every day in practice, then we go back to what we had tonight. He’s the 4 and I’m the 5 and we just go and it works.”
Love played inspired basketball down the stretch and finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds, his 11th double, which ties him for 21st in the nation in that category.
When he and McDonald had battled for that late rebound and he snagged it one handed, Love said that muscle pose had just been a spur-of-the-moment reaction:
“My teammates energy came through me. Everyone was playing hard and I felt my teammates around me.”
McDonald was whistled for the flagrant foul and that gave Love two free throws – he made one – and WSU also got the ball to help seal the game.
McDonald finished with 23 points and nine rebounds, but Love exerted himself down the stretch and that prompted Wampler to praise his big man:
“I think he’s the best player in the league.”
Wampler didn’t say that lightly. He knows McDonald well. The two toured Brazil this summer with an Athletes in Action team:
“He’s a heck of a good player. It’s hard to pick, but I think Big Lou is probably the best.”
A radio broadcaster asked Love about playing against McDonald, who, he said “ is considered the league’s NBA prospect.”
Love sort of laughed and leaned back in his chair as if to say: ‘Whoa, wait a minute!”
One day Love will almost certainly have a pro career, too, but he quickly caught himself:
“Playing him is a great challenge He’s a very good player. Coach Nagy said it earlier this week. He brings a lot of energy to the program, to NKU and the fans.”
Love does the same at Wright State and you saw that as joyous Raiders players walked off the court.
That’s when Ernsthausen wrapped an arm around Love’s neck and chatted him up most of the way back to the dressing room while giddy WSU fans leaned down from the stands up above, reached out with their hands and showered then with cheers.
“I think he showed why he’s one of the best players in the league and that’s why we need him to continue to play like that if we’re going to do what we want to do,” Ernsthausen said. “And I think he’s OK with that. He just needs to be reminded sometimes and I’m happy to do it.”
After the game Nagy was happy, too. After he had talked about Love’s momentary lapses, he had glanced at the box score and saw the double double, along with a couple of assists, a steal and a blocked shot.
“That tells you how good he is,” Nagy said. “He had 20 and 11 and he didn’t play that well. When Loudon wants to go get it, it’s hard to stop him from doing just that.”
With a smile he added: “I wouldn’t trade him.”
And on this night that left us with just one more thing.
As Love huddled with his mom and sister on the edge of the Nutter Center court after the game, you noticed the faint moustache above his upper lip and the small, blond thatch of whiskers on is chin.
He admitted he’s trying to grow a goatee, but said his teammates aren’t so quick with the embrace as they are out on the court:
“So many people talk bad about it,” he said with a little laugh, then a shrug.
But that was OK.
By the end of this night, everything else people had to say about him was good.