Photo by Samantha Bonpensiero
Freshman forward Matt Mitchell exited the court with 4:04 left in the game to a standing ovation at Viejas Arena, after his barrage of three-pointers helped San Diego State men’s basketball to a 94-63 victory over Eastern Illinois University.
Mitchell had been in a shooting slump coming into the game, having shot just 2-for-18 through three games to start his Aztecs career.
Consider the slump busted.
Mitchell scored 26 of a game-high 31 points in the second half, electrifying the crowd whenever he touched the ball while draining seven three pointers and shooting a blistering 10-for-14 from the field.
“All I needed was to see one go in,” Mitchell said. “Once I saw one go in I knew I had my groove back.”
His seven three pointers tied for fourth-most in school history, and his 31 points were the most by an SDSU freshman since Evan Burns scored 31 points in 2003.
“Good three-point shooting can make you look like a good coach, and Matt Mitchell made me look like a genius today,” SDSU head coach Brian Dutcher said.
Dutcher said he never doubted Mitchell, and knew that it was just a matter of time until his talented freshman got it going.
“I knew he was a very good shooter and that he would eventually get his rhythm,” Dutcher said. “Once he had a couple he just got on fire.”
According to Aztecs’ senior forward and co-captain Malik Pope, the true freshman’s performance came as no surprise to his teammates.
“I told you all during media day to watch out for this man,” Pope said. “I’m not surprised. We see it every day at practice. He can shoot the ball. He can score. He’s really strong. I’m just happy to see him finally show the crowd.”
Mitchell wasn’t the only SDSU player on fire from behind the arc, as the team went 13-for-25 from three-point land and shot 52 percent from the field.
Senior guard Trey Kell added three first-half three-pointers for SDSU, finishing 3-for-5 from downtown and scoring 14 points with seven rebounds and five assists.
The Aztecs (3-1) set the pace early with Pope and Kell, both of whom were already in double figures at the break, and used a 14-0 run in the first half to pull away from EIU (1-3) for a 40-25 halftime lead.
Pope recorded his first double-double of the season with 17 points and 11 rebounds to go along with one block and one steal.
“(Rebounding’s) an emphasis during practice,” Pope said. “It’s tough. I just want to show my toughness. Hopefully it carries on with my teammates, like today did.”
The Aztecs out-rebounded the Panthers 41-to-35, and only turned the ball over three times in the second half (compared to 10 in the first half), to win the turnover battle 13 to 18.
“We were a little careless in the first half with the ball,” Dutcher said. “When we took better care of the ball in the second half, we only had three turnovers. We were really able to extend the lead at that point.”
EIU missed nine of its first 10 shots to start the game, putting itself in an early 12-3 hole.
“When you’re playing a really big team, it’s hard to get a really good shot and they’re a really good defensive team,” EIU head coach Jay Spoonhour said. “When you go out there and the things you’ve been doing for the first part of the season don’t really work, then you panic a little bit.”
The Panthers had three players end up scoring in double figures, and shot better in the second half (42 percent), but finished only 36 percent from the field in the game, including 30 percent from three.
EIU junior guard Jajuan Starks led the team in scoring with 17 points, followed by 14 points from senior guard Montell Goodwin and 11 points from junior guard Michael Chavers.
SDSU’s next game is on Nov. 24 against Sacramento State University, as part of the Wooden Legacy tournament set to take place in Fullerton, Calif.