Wright State’s Cole Gentry forced a turnover late in the game against Morehead State on Tuesday, hounding a dribbler until the player mishandled the ball and dove too late to keep it from going out of bounds.
As 3,133 Nutter Center spectators let out a cheer, Gentry began waving his arms in their direction to get them to roar even more.
The 5-foot-10 junior point guard is first on the team in 3-point shooting, assists and steals, and he’s also the Raiders’ unofficial leader when it comes to competitive fire. He often creates havoc by generating contact and getting deflections, making him a fan favorite and earning the admiration of coach Scott Nagy.
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“He’s probably the one guy we consistently get the same effort out of every game — not that his production is the same all the time, but he’s our leader in that category,” Nagy said.
“The way he plays, I never have to get on Cole to change his attitude or get after it. Probably with everyone else on the team, I have to.”
Gentry has noticed how his intensity not only can force turnovers, but also break the will of an opponent.
“You can see it kind of drains the other team, and our team gets energy from it,” he said. “I like the emotion I get when I’m feeling pumped up, and I know I can get even more energy into the gym.”
But there are hazards to playing with such disregard for his body. He took an elbow to the face against the Eagles while going up to stop a fastbreak layup and ended up with a black eye.
He’s accustomed to it, though. He acquired several shiners when he could only practice with the team for a year after transferring from South Dakota State.
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“I’m the perfect height for it — because a lot of guys’ elbows are right where my head is,” he said with a smile.
But while his relentless style may stand out to observers, Gentry doesn’t think it’s anything out of the ordinary.
“It’s what everybody needs to bring. It’s not just me. For us to be really good, we all have to make those hustle plays. There’s nothing worse than watching film and seeing hustle plays you could have made,” he said.
Wright State (6-6) will need to exert plenty of extra effort to contend with 16th-ranked Mississippi State (10-1) on Saturday. Though the game will be played at an arena in Jackson, Miss., it’ll still be a challenge for a group with such defensive shortcomings
The Raiders are 296th out of 351 Division-I teams in field-goal percentage defense (46.1) and 251st in defensive efficiency (1.051 points per possession).
They were carved up enough in their last outing that Nagy, a strict man-to-man coach, has contemplated switching to a zone.
“We struggled to guard (Morehead State’s) guards. How are we going to guard Mississippi State’s?” he said.
“I’m going to have to make some decisions on what we do or how we change things. We’re just not at all very pleased with our defense at this point because it’s bad.”
But the Raiders won’t be awed by facing such a highly ranked foe. Several current players performed well in an upset of Georgia Tech on the road last season: Loudon Love had 16 points and 12 rebounds, Gentry 12 points on 4-of-6 three-pointers and Mark Hughes 10 points.
“Looking back at last year, not a lot of people expected us to win that game,” Hughes said. “We came in with confidence and played loose and played within ourselves, and we came away with a win.
“It gives us a glimpse that we can play with big teams. It’s going to take a little extra from everybody. Mississippi State is a great team, and we’re going to have to play great from the start.”