- Doug Harris Contributing Writer
Wright State coach Scott Nagy believes star point guard Justin Mitchell can get back to playing how he did last year — not trying to do too much, but scoring without forcing shots and impacting a game in a multitude of ways.
But that’s not going to happen when the Raiders host Murray State at 7 p.m. Saturday. Nagy is benching Mitchell for the game after holding him out after the first half of an overtime loss at Miami on Tuesday .
»PREVIEW: Murray State at Wright State
Nagy declined to discuss his decision, but he did say the 6-foot-4 senior has struggled to mesh with essentially a completely new lineup around him.
The Raiders lost Mark Alstork, Steven Davis and Mike La Tulip, who averaged a combined 41 points last season. And the only other returning starter, Grant Benzinger, missed almost the entire preseason because of hernia surgery.
“He doesn’t have a 20-point scorer (Alstork) to his right. He doesn’t have an experienced post player, where last year he had Steven, who could shoot it. He has guys around him trying to figure out their roles, where last year he didn’t. And, so, there was less pressure on him to score due to those kinds of things. Now, he’s kind of feeling that,” Nagy said.
»ARCHDEACON: WSU’s Mitchell rebounds on the court, in life
Mitchell averaged 11.5 points last season and was second in the Horizon League in rebounds (8.3), tied for fourth in assists (4.0), eighth in field-goal percentage (53.4) and 11th in assist-turnover ratio (1.2-1.0).
Other Raiders scored more, but Nagy called Mitchell the team’s most valuable player.
Though it’s early, his numbers have dipped to 8.5 points and 6.5 rebounds, and he has eight turnovers and six assists in two games.
“He and I talked, and I just need him to score in the flow of the offense instead of trying to score extra. … Justin has all these other things going on around him (with newcomers to the lineup) that he can’t control, and I think he feels the pressure to be the guy. When you’re tense, you just can’t play well,” Nagy said.
Taking Mitchell’s place in the lineup is 5-11 junior Tye Wilburn, who’s been a major surprise as a walk-on. He had nine points and nine rebounds against Miami, and he’s had five assists and no turnovers while playing a combined 42 minutes in the first two games.
“It’s hard to believe, but he’s one of, if not THE best rebounder on our team,” Nagy said. He’s incredibly strong. He doesn’t look at it, but he’s tough and has a good nose for the ball.”
Nagy, though, has bemoaned his lack of depth and proven scorers. He went only three players deep into his bench against the RedHawks, and opponents have figured out the Raiders’ only two consistent outside threats are Benzinger and Mark Hughes.
“We don’t have enough offense out there,” he said. “We went 1-for-8 in overtime (against Miami), and it’s hard to win that way. We pretty much have two guys who can shoot the basketball. We had others guys on the perimeter they flat-out weren’t guarding, so it’s hard to throw the ball in. And our guys were gassed by playing that many minutes.”
Help is on the way, though. Jaylon Hall, a 6-5 freshman from Houston, has been sidelined with injuries but will see his first college action against the Racers.
“He’s got to go from about zero to 100 right now,” Nagy said. “He handles (the ball) and shoots it well. But it’s his first college game, so how’s he going to respond?”