Lock Down – 2005 Mid-American ConferenceTournament Guide

Matt Goul

Scott Cutley and Nate Gerwig have made a habit of keeping Kent State from getting kicked around

Credit: Matt Goul

Playing the villain can be so much more fun. Junior center Nate Gerwig would rather hear the boos from an opposing crowd than the cheers of a friendly one. He feeds off it. He paces up and down the court of the opposition with a smirk on his face. His grin grows as the booing gets louder. It means he’s doing something right. “I like to disappoint,” he said. “I think it’s more fun to disappoint other people’s fans.” Whether sophomore forward Scott Cutley likes it or not, he can play the bad guy, too.

Cutley’s 6-foot-5 frame is not nearly as big as the 6-foot-9, 260-pound Gerwig. Cutley’s at least 25 pounds lighter, too. If play gets physical inside, he can get flopped like a fish.

There’s a good chance he just drew a charge.

Cutley and Gerwig thrive off the physicality in the post. They do the dirty work necessary to get their team to the championship game. Should Kent State advance to the Mid-American Conference tournament final, the two will be as much of a reason for it as anyone.

Cutley did all the dirty work last year at Gund Arena. He could send a cleaning bill to the home of the MAC tournament for all the wiping he did on the floor.

He had to do it by himself then.

There was no Gerwig to help. He sat on the sidelines and watched while recovering from knee surgery. Meanwhile, Cutley started to hear the comparisons.

“Right away, everybody was just comparing me to him,” Cutley said. “A shorter version or whatever. I never saw Nate play because he was hurt. I saw tapes, but I was being told I play just like him.”

Why not? Junior point guard DeAndre Haynes recognized their similarities, noting it’s the energy they bring that the rest of the team feeds of off.

Both play the role of enforcers. They are the types of players opposing coaches say they want on their teams and hate to play against. The little scraps inside are just a part of it. Catch an elbow here, give one back. Talk trash, take your opponent out of his game.

Welcome to the inside battles of the MAC.

Gerwig, after what was becoming a successful rehabilitation from his injured right knee, started experiencing swelling in it again. Another scope and time on crutches happened around Halloween, making for more waiting and rehabilitation.

“No one dreamed of having a third knee surgery and missing 10 games,” Gerwig said. “I’m really just trying to do anything to win another championship.”

Hitting it off

Even while Gerwig missed last season, his off-court friendship with Cutley developed. It started when Gerwig and former Kent State center John Edwards picked Cutley up two summers ago when he arrived at Kent State for good. Since then, Gerwig’s home in Pittsburgh has been a stop for any plane trips to and from California Cutley has taken.

Cutley had offers from bigger schools. Colorado, of the Big 12, was interested. But he ruled it out for being a program near the bottom of the Big 12. New Mexico was an option, too, but Cutley said his mother did not like the coach.

At least Christian can claim he’s a likable coach.

“What made me come here most was that they win. Kent State wins,” Cutley said. “I was coming from a high school program where we won a lot. That was something I wanted to carry on into college.”

Westchester High School won back-to-back state titles with Cutley. The school is among the nationally-elite high school programs. The Sporting News had the school ranked No. 3 in the nation going into this season.

Post Mentality

“In the post, with me and Nate, we take it personal when somebody scores on us,” Cutley said. “We try to not let that happen as much as possible.”

He admitted a lot of the post battles come down to mind games. Gerwig is battling with the player he’s guarding and the entire crowd on the road. He hears the chorus of boos every time he gets a mighty shove from another center in transition. The crowd knows better, that he is not helpless in getting pushed.

It’s all a part of playing the bad guy on the road. But it’s not Gerwig letting the other guy’s mind games get to him.

“He’s the king of mind games, right here,” Cutley said. “Even in practice, he’ll give you a little shot in the stomach when no one’s looking. He’s the king of cheap shots. In the game, that really gets to players. They start getting overaggressive, and that’s when we do get charges.”

Cutley admits the battles go both ways, and it’s a matter of who gets in whose head. The mind games played a role both times Kent State met Akron. In their latest meeting Feb. 26 at the M.A.C. Center, Gerwig took a forearm from Akron’s Matt Futch — near the center of court in transition and in front of a referee — who blew his whistle immediately.

“Nate does it the best,” Cutley said. “He does a lot of crazy stuff on the court that really gets into the other players’ heads. When you see him diving, he plays with all kinds of energy and that helps our team win.”

Gerwig dove into the front-row seats at Akron’s James A. Rhodes Arena while going for a loose ball earlier this season. Instead of a player taking exception to his hustle, a fan did and threw his chair onto the court before getting ejected.

Gerwig’s reckless abandon inspires his teammates, but coach Jim Christian is not too far away with his hands extended for a plea to “slow down.”

Christian said he will only instruct and his players know how to correct their mistakes on their own. Gerwig realizes he’s not as quick as Cutley to go for a steal on the perimeter. But sometimes, he still goes for it.

“Sometimes I try to do too much and get beat inside,” Gerwig said. “Most of the time he tells me to just stay on my assignment and don’t go for steals.”

Breaking the mold

Cutley admits his weakness involves his biggest attribute — his intensity. Cutley jumps the most, pumps his fists the most and is the most hyped during pregame warm-ups. It continues into the start of the game but not always through the entire first half.

His coach reminds him of that.

“He’s our emotional leader on the floor,” Christian said. “The minute he doesn’t play with fire, passion and emotion, nobody else does, either. We feed off that. Every team has a guy they feed off in one way or another.”

Christian said Eric Haut was that emotional leader before Cutley. Demetric Shaw took that role before him. It’s where Cutley separates himself from the quieter Gerwig in the on-the-court comparisons. Christian said Cutley’s overall improvement, as well as his fire, is immense. Cutley’s playing time from last season has improved by about 10 minutes. It was not until his final five games last year that he became a starter, drawing more comparisons to Gerwig with his play in the MAC tournament.

Cutley said each possession in the tournament is intensified and at a faster pace. A crucial mistake can mean the end of the season. He said the Gerwig comparisons made the two look more forward to playing with each other this season. There was a point they were unsure that could happen with Gerwig’s knee problems.

I’d rather be in Kent

Cutley has numerous former teammates playing college basketball somewhere. The difference, he said, is they are not in as good of a situation. His only regret happens when walking to class in the cold.

“I got a two-way, and they’re always sending me pictures of the sun and stuff like that,” he said. “They’re just making fun of me. Then, I send them picture of us going here. But we’re in the hunt for a MAC championship. And the guys I played with are either at the middle or the bottom of the barrel in their conferences. I think it’s an even trade.”

He’ll take the cold for the winning.

Contact men’s basketball reporter Matt Goul at [email protected].