2017-'18 Season Coverage
updated: 3/7/2018 8:21 PM

Stephens, Love, Gentry living the NCAA Tournament dream

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Getting a chance to play in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament once is quite an accomplishment.

More than likely, former St. Charles East High School standout Kendall Stephens will get an opportunity to wear his "dancing" shoes for the third time in his collegiate career when the tournament bids are officially awarded on Sunday afternoon.

"It would be a great honor to play in the NCAA Tournament for the third time," said Stephens.

Stephens, who began his college career at Purdue where he made his first two postseason appearances, transferred to Nevada and sat out the 2016-2017 season due to eligibility rules.

This season, the 6-foot-7 senior guard has provided offensive firepower and veteran leadership for the nationally ranked Wolf Pack, who bring a 26-6 record into Thursday's Mountain West Conference Tournament quarterfinals against either Air Force or UNLV in Las Vegas.

Stephens, who has started 31 of Nevada's 32 games, ranks fourth on the team in scoring with a 13.5-point average.

His specialty is long-range shooting -- specifically, knocking down 3-pointers.

Stephens set a Mountain West Conference record this past season with 73 3-point baskets.

For the season, the sleek 205-pounder has connected on 113 of his 253 three-point attempts (. 447 shooting percentage), just two shy of the school record of 115 set last season by Marcus Marshall.

"We believe Kendall is one of the best shooters in the country," Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said recently after watching Stephens score a career-high 30 points while matching a career high with seven 3-pointers during Nevada's 80-67 win over San Jose State on Feb. 21.

Stephens owns another school record with 11 games of making five or more 3-pointers.

Not bad for a guy who has only spent one season playing at Nevada.

"It's going good -- everything is great," Stephens said in a recent phone interview. "It has been fun. The fans have been welcoming and we've been playing at a high level. It's a great group of guys who play for each other."

Stephens, a 2013 graduate of St. Charles East, began his collegiate career at Purdue, where he enjoyed solid back-to-back seasons. As a freshman, he made 64 of his 173 three-point attempts (. 370) before draining 73 of his 190 long-range shots (. 384) his sophomore campaign.

As a junior, things began to change as his playing time and stat sheets were reduced. Stephens hit 38 of his 120 three-point tries (. 317) for the Boilermakers in 2015-2016.

"Toward the end of my junior year, I wasn't on the court as much and I began questioning myself. It (transferring to Nevada) definitely was a big decision but looking back it was the right decision for me and my career.

"I'm playing with a lot of confidence. Shooting threes is a huge part of Coach Musselman's offense."

Next year, Stephens has bigger aspirations.

"Playing professionally is definitely a goal of mine," he said.

While freshman forward Cam Krutwig (Jacobs) helped Loyola earn a tournament berth in last weekend's Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, two more local players punched their postseason tickets earlier this week.

Geneva grad Loudon Love and St. Charles East product Cole Gentry contributed during Wright State's 74-57 Horizon League championship victory over Cleveland State Tuesday night in Detroit.

Love, a 6-9, 275-pound redshirt freshman forward, had 9 points, 12 rebounds and 2 assists while the 5-10, 170-pound redshirt sophomore guard Gentry added 11 points, 3 assists and 2 rebounds as the Raiders reached the "Big Dance" for the first time in 11 years.

Love, who shed 50 pounds during his redshirt season, has been a force to be reckoned with throughout the season for Wright State (25-9), which set a program record for Division 1 wins.

Starting all 34 games, Love averages 12.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game while leading the Horizon League in field-goal shooting (. 531). He recently broke a 28-year-old freshman school scoring record with 439 points.

"He has been playing incredible basketball," Gentry said of his roommate.

Gentry sat out the team's first 10 games after transferring from South Dakota State midway through last season.

It is no coincidence that Gentry followed former South Dakota State head coach Scott Nagy to Wright State.

"It's one of the few coaching staffs that recruited me out of high school," said Gentry, who averages 9.2 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 24 games (19 starts) at Wright State. "I felt comfortable with the decision (to transfer) but it was a little difficult to watch the guys play early in the season."

Saints coach Patrick Woods and former assistant Craig Wolf were in attendance during the Raiders' tourney-clinching victory Tuesday night.

"It has been a blast," said Gentry. "We put ourselves in a good spot."

All eyes will be on the tournament selection show Sunday afternoon.

Craig Brueske can be reached at csb4k@hotmail.com

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