Loudon Love had to expect extra attention from foes this year. He was a preseason first-team All-Horizon League pick, and every defensive game plan has been designed to keep him from muscling his way to easy baskets.
But the inconsistent play from the 6-foot-9, 280-pound sophomore can’t all be attributed to that, at least not in coach Scott Nagy’s eyes. Love has bulked up a bit from last season, and while he still seems to be in peak shape, he hasn’t looked as nimble in some games this year.
“We’ve asked him to drop a few pounds because, when I go back and look at last year compared to this year, it just looks like he’s stuck in mud,” Nagy said. “He’s already started to do that. I think he’s moving better, playing quicker.”
After making the all-tournament team at the Cancun Challenge just before Thanksgiving, Love went five games where he averaged a modest 10 points and 7.4 rebounds while shooting just 37.5 percent from the field. But he had a breakthrough outing against Morehead State on Tuesday, notching 19 points and 10 rebounds.
He converted at a higher rate around the basket than he has in weeks, going 6-for-10 from the field, and he also went 7-for-8 from the foul line, hiking his percentage to 53.3 percent.
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He injured his ankle late in the second half and has been receiving treatment. His status for the Mississippi State game Saturday night won’t be known until tipoff, a school spokesman said.
“I’m not really concerned about points or missed layups with him,” Nagy said. “I’ve already told him I don’t care what he shoots from the free-throw line. I just want him to GET to the free-throw line. It’s great he went 7-for-8 tonight, but what we need him to do is be a great defender and a tremendous rebounder.
“I want him to get 11 rebounds a game. I want him to dominate defensively, which he’s not even close to doing right now. The other stuff will just happen.”
Regaining his form against Morehead State helped to raise his averages to 14.0 points and 8.8 rebounds. He was named the conference freshman of the year after averaging 12.9 points and 9.7 boards last season.
“I’ve said it before: We do have a lot of scorers out there, so point production is never a really big worry for me,” Love said. “Rebounds are something I try to focus on.
“It’s a tough battle down there, but I feel it’s kind of my duty. To get back to 10 rebounds feels good. I want to get 10 or 11 every game. That’s what we’re looking for. And if we need those numbers to win, it’s the numbers I want to get.”
The Raiders had lost five straight games to Division-I opponents, and that was motivation enough for Love to lift his intensity against the Eagles.
He had a three-point play in the first half and gave teammate Mark Hughes a hard body-check during his celebration after the basket.
After another three-point play in the second half, he let out a roar and flexed his arms.
“At a certain point, you get fed up, and you want to turn the season around,” he said. “Hopefully, that game gets us pointed in the right direction.”
Point guard Cole Gentry felt Love’s energy was contagious.
“When he plays well and plays hard, our whole team kind of feeds off of him because he’s so aggressive, so big and so physical,” he said. “When he comes out like he did, the whole team follows his lead.”