- Doug Harris Contributing Writer
Wright State’s Justin Mitchell talked openly before season about trying to average a triple-double. He knew it probably was out of reach, but he wanted to set a high standard for himself and see how close he could come to attaining it.
In the exhibition opener against Wayne State, he put up Russell Westbrook-type numbers, getting 23 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. But the downside of setting personal goals is that it makes a player too conscious of individual stats — sometimes to the detriment of the team.
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Mitchell’s production dipped to 13 points, eight rebounds and four assists in the season-opening loss at Loyola (Ill.). He then had only seven points, five boards and two assists in an overtime defeat at Miami while spending the second half and OT on the bench.
Coach Scott Nagy decided after that to suspend his senior point guard for the home opener against Murray State. And that seems to be what Mitchell needed to regain his old form.
“I’m slowly getting it back,” he said. “I started in a slump. It’s not about me, though. Stats are going to come for me. Right now, I’m just focused on getting guys better and continuing to stay positive.
“I think that was a big part (of the problem) with me — focusing on my stats. Me not getting my stats affected my attitude, and that went into me not playing. If I’m not scoring, that’s OK. I just want to win. When I look up at the scoreboard and see we’re winning, that’s a good feeling.”
The 6-foot-4 Mitchell had the kind of performance he turned in regularly last year against Toledo on Saturday, tallying 18 points and 12 rebounds. It was his first double-double of the year and propelled the Raiders to their seventh win in eight games.
Despite his early-season travails, he’s second on the team in scoring with a 10.5 average and first in the Horizon League in steals at 2.1 per game, fourth in rebounding at 7.3 and sixth in assists at 3.3.
He’s also one of the Raiders’ best defenders.
“He’s just an all-around good player,” Nagy said. “If you just looking at one stat, he doesn’t blow you away. But to me, the one stat that really does, just from his position, is rebounding.”
The breakout game coincided with Mitchell turning over most of the point-guard duties to the newly eligible Cole Gentry.
“It allowed him to get out in front of the ball and make some plays, where he hasn’t been able to do that in a year and a half,” Nagy said.
Mitchell enjoyed not having to take the ball out of bounds after baskets or wait for outlet passes after misses.
“I liked attacking the basket. I get to run more in transition,” he said.
Nagy said he’ll start Mitchell again at point guard Tuesday when the Raiders visit Missouri State. But Gentry played 26 minutes against Toledo off the bench and can expect the same workload.
Though the 5-10 sophomore had only seven points, four rebounds and no assists with two turnovers, his presence was a big factor in the Raiders’ first road victory of the season.
“We can handle pressure now where we struggled a little bit. It’s able to calm people down,” Nagy said.
Mitchell is just fine with letting someone else run the show.
“It doesn’t matter what position I play, whether that’s the point or center. It’s just about winning for me. I can adjust to any position on the floor,” he said.