There’s no comparison between Cameron Mitchell’s return to the NAIA Division II National Tournament this week, in comparison to his first visit three years ago.
Likewise, there’s no comparison between Mitchell’s modest nine-point opening-round performance from Wednesday and his 31-point explosion in Indiana University Southeast’s 83-73 second-round win against No. 6 Saint Xavier (Ill.) on Friday.
Mitchell’s career-high outing saw him shoot 11-of-16 from the field and 7-of-8 at the foul line. He never lost his shooter’s legs, even while logging 37-plus minutes.
“I felt calm, felt better and more relaxed tonight,” Mitchell said. “I played the game the way I know how to play it.”
Mitchell was a backup freshman guard for Walsh (Ohio) three years ago, when the No. 1-seeded Cavaliers were ousted by host College of the Ozarks in the first round.
Indiana Southeast (29-4) will play in the quarterfinal round against the winner of Friday night’s Southern Oregon-College of the Ozarks matchup, which ended after the News and Tribune’s deadline.
“It was a hostile environment,” Mitchell said, while recalling his feelings during Walsh’s loss. “Oh my God, it was packed and loud. The crowd was crazy. But we’ve been on big stages before. We’re ready for anything.”
Grenadiers coach Wiley Brown echoed that sentiment, while giving his players a pep talk prior to Friday’s game.
“I told [Mitchell] and Kegan [Clark], ‘You all have to put on a show out here. You have been on the big stage before,’” Brown said. “They are big-time players. [Mitchell] got off to a great start. He took the ball to the hoop and either got fouled or got a layup. He helped us tremendously.”
Indiana Southeast, which is one win shy of the program’s single-season record, jumped out to a 10-0 lead and maintained at least a six-point cushion the rest of the night. All the while, the Grenadiers dictated the tempo, pushing the ball upcourt.
Indiana Southeast shot 53 percent from the field, while Saint Xavier (29-5) managed just 39-percent shooting.
“They weren’t used to our style,” Brown said. “They like to walk the ball up the floor. If we let teams play half-court ball against us, most of the time we’re going to lose that game. Our strength is to push the ball up the court.
“We hit shots early and that opened the court up for us to drive. Thank God we were knocking them down early, so we could get to the basket. That opened up a lot for us.”
In addition to Mitchell, guard Jake Simpson had a hot hand. He netted 19 points and Kevin Mitchell contributed 14.
“We’re always about tempo,” Mitchell said. “They’re a slow team and we’re fast. We wanted to make them run. That was our whole idea going into the game. We wanted to make them run and do something out of the ordinary for them.”
Experience taught the Grenadiers the importance of being ready at the opening tip. A year ago, they were in catch-up mode from the get-go and never mounted a serious challenge while losing to Davenport 80-52 in the second round.
“It’s important to get going early,” Simpson said. “A lot of times, this tournament is about who can get a lead and keep it and who can withstand a run. We withstood their runs and bounced back with a run every time.”
Defensviely, Indiana Southeast kept Saint Xavier forward Brad Karp to 15 points. Karp, a junior who reached the 2,000-point milestone in the first round, was hindered by foul trouble and played just 22 minutes.
INDIANA SOUTHEAST 83, SAINT XAVIER (ILL.) 73
SAINT XAVIER (29-5): Mawhorr 1-2 0-2 2, Karp 6-12 3-5 15, Grant 5-12 0-0 10, Krieger 7-17 0-1 19, Green 2-11 0-0 5, Zackery 1-2 0-0 2, Smith 2-2 0-1 4, Core 1-3 0-0 2, Harvey 6-19 2-2 4. Totals 31-80 5-11 73.
INDIANA SOUTHEAST (29-4): Clark 3-7 1-2 7, K. Mitchell 6-11 1-2 14, Trimnell 1-5 0-0 2, Simpson 7-13 3-4 19, C. Mitchell 11-16 7-8 31, Billups 2-5 1-2 6, Harris 2-4 0-0 4. Totals 32-61 13-18 83.
Halftime — Indiana Southeast 38, Sanit Xavier 29.
3-point goals — Indiana Soutehast 6-17, Saint Xavier 6-28.
Rebounding — Saint Xavier 41 (Harvey 11), Indiana Southeast 32 (Clark 7). Assits — Saint Xavier 15 (Grant 5), Indiana Southeast 10 (C. Mitchell 3).