After going through a lull while dealing with a sprained ankle, Loudon Love is showing again why he was a preseason first-team All-Horizon League pick.
The sophomore center had a combined 39 points and 20 rebounds in wins over Milwaukee and Green Bay to earn conference player of the week honors Monday. And along with that hefty production, he’s displayed some aggression and enthusiasm on the court that were missing for most of the last three months.
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After stuffing a Green Bay shot and forcing a jump ball (the Raiders had the possession arrow), the burly Love waved his arms at the crowd and cupped his hands behind his ears for more noise. The 6,114 fans roared their approval.
“Everybody knows he’s our top guy, and when your top guy plays like that and plays with that level of confidence, it gives everybody else confidence,” coach Scott Nagy said.
“He absolutely wants the ball right now, which is great. I feel like with him doing that, it makes (opponents) really pay a lot attention to him, and it should get other people open.”
Love’s resurgence has propelled Wright State to a season-long four-game winning streak, and it’s one reason Nagy is so optimistic going into the second half of the conference season.
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The Raiders (12-10) are tied for second with Oakland at 6-3, two games behind 8-1 Northern Kentucky. They already beat the Grizzlies once during a grueling five-game road stretch, which means they’re currently sitting as the second seed for the league tourney.
The schedule also is favorable since they’ll play three of the other four teams with winning league records at home, including NKU.
“Having that five-game road stretch like we did, it wasn’t simple. But we got through it,” said Nagy, whose team is 3-1 at the Nutter Center and 3-2 on the road in the conference.
“In my opinion, the one hiccup is the overtime loss to UIC (at home). We shot the ball so poorly that it’s amazing we even got the game into overtime. But that’s the one hiccup, and we’ve got to figure out a way on the road to pick up an extra game.”
The Raiders also have gotten a lift from freshmen guards Skyelar Potter and Malachi Smith, who don’t seem fazed by being thrust into major roles.
Potter has averaged 12 points and six rebounds in the last two games, while Smith has averaged 9.5 points and 4.8 boards in the last four outings.
Fellow reserve Bill Wampler, a junor forward, gives the Raiders a solid eight-man rotation.
“I’m so pleased with how our freshmen are playing,” Nagy said. “Malachi and Skyelar have both taken another step for us. It’s changed our basketball team. It’s allowed us to be deeper and spread the minutes around.”
The Raiders seemed to be in a downward spiral after a blowout loss at Detroit and narrow defeat at Northern Kentucky in early January left them 8-10 — the same number of losses they had all of last season while finishing 25-10.
But though he didn’t buy into the doom and gloom, Nagy understood why others might have been quick to give up on the season.
“Part of it was we probably overachieved last year and created some tough expectations,” he said. “It’s like, ‘These (coaches) are miracle workers.’
“Couple that with two really good players who aren’t playing for us this year (injured back-ups Jaylon Hall and Grant Basile) and a tough schedule. And, gosh, there were so many close games we just couldn’t win.”
But Nagy knew there was ample time to change that depressing outlook — and so did his players.
“We don’t really worry about (what is being said). We just kind of play and trust each other,” Wampler said. “We have high expectations. We had a really tough schedule early on. We wanted to challenge ourselves, and I think that’s really helping us now. We learned how tough we need to play.”
Of the Raiders final nine league games, five are at home. They go on the road to face UIC on Friday and IUPUI on Sunday and then play five straight at the Nutter Center
“We’ve got a very tough road trip coming up,” Nagy said. “Our four road games left are all going to be tough. Every road game is. But championships, that’s where they’re won for sure.”