He had just spent the evening muscling up against, pushing, straining, jockeying for position, bouncing off of, doing anything to try to stymie Wright State’s 6-foot-9, 270-pound Loudon Love — a “wrestling match,” WSU coach Scott Nagy called it afterward – and now as he stood on the edge of the Nutter Center court talking to friends after the Raiders’ 56-54 victory. Milwaukee big man Amir Allen was asked about what it was like playing against WSU’s sophomore center.
He said Love was the largest guy they’ve played against this season and used words like “strong…big…tough…physical…good” to describe him.
He never mentioned “sensitive.”
And none of the other Milwaukee players would either, not after Love roughed them up with 21 points and 12 rebounds for his eighth double double of the season.
Milwaukee guard Darius Roy certainly didn’t see the warm and fuzzy side of Love when he tried to launch a shot only to have Love smother the attempt with his arms and body as though he was a big, beefy blanket being draped over him.
It was the same about four minutes later when Panthers guard Jake Wright – who once played for the Miami RedHawks – tried to turn and shoot, only to come face-to-chest with Love, whose arms were extended skyward. The unexpected wall of humanity caused Wright to go up and come back down with the ball and he was whistled for travelling.
Sportswriters and coaches weren’t thinking of Love’s sensitive side either when they voted him the Horizon League Rookie of the Year last season and made him a preseason, first team all-league pick this past fall. Neither were the folks who put him on the preseason watch list for the Lou Henson Award, which honors the top big man at the mid-major college level.
Yet, those who are closest to him – his Raiders teammates and coaches and especially Nagy – have seen the sensitive side.
While that makes for a kind and caring friend – and good teammate – Nagy admitted there are plusses to the flip side of all that: “I wish he was a little more selfish. There are those times when he gets a little bit ornery that we really like him.”
Early this season – with all the publicity and expectations draped on him – Love felt uncomfortable and was a bit unsure how to act.
“It was hard for him,” Nagy said. “He’s such a good teammate. He’s not a selfish kid at all and he just wanted to play well for his teammates. And anytime he didn’t, he felt like he was letting everybody down.
“But you can’t let that fear of letting someone down freeze you up. And that’s what he was doing.
“He and I had several talks about it and there was one thing I explained to him: ‘If you’re going to be a top-notch player, here’s the deal. Get used to letting people down ‘cause it’s gonna happen. I let people down, too.’
“If you’re in a leadership position, there are times you’re going to let people down. There are times you’ll have a tough game. But if you want to be a leader – which he does – you can’t be worried about letting people down all the time.
“Or, you can just be someone we’re not counting on and that way you don’t have to worry about letting anyone down.”
Even with the sound advice, it took a while for Love to embrace it. He’s always hard on himself and a time or two he’s shown himself to be hard on others.
“At the start of the season I tried to be more of a tough guy and go through people,” he admitted. “I’d go past the whistle…as we saw against UIC.”
In that game, Love scuffled with the Flames’ Jordan Blount for a rebound and both ended up on the floor. Once he got up, Love pointed at Blount and barked. He was hit with a technical. Soon Blount was, too, and three UIC players who rushed the court were ejected from the game.
“Now I realize the real tough guys wins within the whistle, without the other stuff,” he said.
What made it tougher for Love the past month or so was an ankle injury he suffered near the end of the Raiders victory over Morehead State, a game in which he scored 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
He stepped on another player’s foot and rolled is left ankle. The swelling and the pain kept him out of the Mississippi State game four days later.
“Right after that I drove home (Geneva, Illinois) for Christmas with Cole (Gentry) and then we drove back,” Love said. “I didn’t really have my foot propped up and that didn’t help with the swelling.”
He said the WSU trainers, especially Jason Franklin, have treated the injury and helped him finally minimize the pain so he’s not always worried about reinjuring it.
“His ankle is still swollen, but he doesn’t have the pain and I think that’s why he’s playing better,” Nagy said. “I think he’s really starting to play like he’s capable of playing. He’s settled down and I starting to put up numbers like we thought he would.
“Early on tonight he was really good. He got every rebound, caught every ball deep.”
Love scored WSU’s first six points against the Panthers and had 12 points and nine rebounds by halftime.
As he game wore on, Milwaukee began to sag two and three players on him to deny him the ball or try to strip him when he did catch it.
“They didn’t do it every time, but when we threw it in, they often would trap him so he was a little unsure when he caught it if he was going to be trapped or not,” Nagy said. “We just told him to catch the ball deeper and not worry about it. Just go up and score.”
Nagy said early this season he told Love: “How many points you score, I could care less. I want you to guard and rebound. If you do those two things, you’ll score just because you’re so big. What we need is for you to get double figure rebounds every game.”
The other area of concern was Love’s free throw shooting, especially last season.
“One of the best things we ever told him was we didn’t care what his free throw percentage was,” Nagy said. ” We just didn’t. I said, ‘I want you to get to the line as many times as you can and get the other team in foul trouble.’ Once we told him that, he really relaxed.”
Love – who is shooting 60.8 percent from the line this season – made 5 of 9 free throws against the Panthers.
“He gets a little more nervous at home when goes to the free throw line because the fans clap for him every time he makes a free throw,” Nagy said. “And he kind of takes that personally.”
Again the sensitivity, but as Nagy stressed:
“We’re thrilled to have him on our side”
Some of that is because of that good-teammate sensitivity, but mostly it’s for those traits Amir Allen ran into Thursday night.
Like he said, the Raiders big man is “strong…big…tough…physical…good.”