When Mickey Mitchell checked into Ohio State's game against Mercer with 1:57 left in the first half Tuesday night, it was the first time the forward saw significant action in game in about nine months.
The freshman was not initially cleared to play by the NCAA eligibility center, something he choose not to comment on further after the game, and thus had not played in a game since last March. Having the opportunity to change that in a 64-44 win over Mercer was pretty meaningful to the Texan.
"Obviously there is always doubt whether I would ever play or not, but for me, I wanted to keep my head up the whole time and come out and practice every single day as hard as I could as if I was going to play," Mitchell said. "Hopefully I gave these guys really good looks on scout team on the days that I couldn’t play. Hopefully I got them better.”
Mitchell was officially cleared the day before Ohio State's upset of Kentucky, but the No. 4 team in the country hardly seemed the right time for Thad Matta to give the freshman his first college minutes.
Instead, Mitchell saw his first action with the Buckeyes up just one late in the first half Tuesday. While he didn't score in eight minutes of action, he did grab three rebounds and recorded one steal. His one turnover came on a beautiful pass that went through the hands of Daniel Giddens.
“I was so happy we could get Mickey in tonight," Matta said. "Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to be involved with us, but just from the standpoint of he’s got a sixth sense about him in terms of how to play the game. I think you saw his ability to pass the basketball, you saw his toughness to go rebound the basketball. It’s going to take him a little time."
Being ineligible also meant that Mitchell was not able to play in the Buckeyes' exhibition game or in their scrimmage, key steps for freshmen in adapting to the college game. Complicating matters further, Matta used Mitchell mostly in a scout-team role in practice because of the uncertainty surrounding his eligibility. That means that he still has plenty to learn about how the Buckeyes do things.
Matta has said that Mitchell will allow him to get more rest for Keita Bates-Diop and Marc Loving, both of whom entered the Mercer game averaging more than 32 minutes a game, and for Jae'Sean Tate. Those are the team's three most experienced players, but he was adamant after the Mercer game that he would find minutes for Mitchell.
“We’re going to make room for him," Matta said. "I think that Mick has, like I said, I like his ability and I like what he brings to the table. Those three guys are playing at a pretty high level right now, but that depth is something that as the season wears on is going to be big for us.”
There were times where Mitchell's strengths showed, the aforementioned pass and a couple other dishes stood out, as well as his willingness to do the dirty work. Not only did he hit the offensive glass, Mitchell's first contribution of the night came when he took a charge on his first defensive possession of college basketball.
Point guard JaQuan Lyle said fans should expect a little of everything going forward.
“I mean, you see glimpse of it in practice every day," Lyle said. "He can bring a lot to the table. He had a big time offensive rebound in the first half, nobody will probably pay attention to it, but I noticed that. It’s just the little things that he does but once he gets in the flow I expect a lot.”
3-Point Struggles: The Buckeyes shot a horrendous 3 of 22 from three against Mercer and it was actually worse than that. Ohio State missed its first 16 threes, despite getting solid looks.
It was a stark contrast to the 9-of-18 showing from distance that carried the Buckeyes to victory over Kentucky. It was hard to pinpoint the struggles. Though there were times the players seemed hesitant, many of the misses were in and out.
25 Turnovers Forced: Usually if turnovers have come up in my observations this season it's because Ohio State is committing too many of them. Against Mercer, they forced them.
The Buckeyes came up with 17 steals, an unreal seven from Tate, and forced 25 turnovers from the Bears and Mercer coach Bob Hoffman credited his team’s mistakes to the length of the Buckeyes.
Many of those steals and turnovers came from extra effort from the Buckeyes as they were often diving for loose balls, replicating their Kentucky performance in that regard. Matta hopes that becomes the team's calling card.
“I hope that that kind of becomes who we are because I think these guys are starting to understand when we play like that, with the energy, when you’re as young as we are you’ve got to have energy, you’ve got to have enthusiasm," Matta said. "Those things, you can fake it, you can masquerade it at times, but the things they were doing tonight, those things were real. The things they were doing on Saturday, those things were real. Hopefully, that sort of becomes who we are because it gives us a chance to cover up a lot of weaknesses by playing hard."
Throwing It Back: Couldn't talk about this game without mentioning the throw back gray jerseys Ohio State wore.
The early 1990s look is a great one. Tuesday did nothing to change my mind that gray should be worked in to the basketball rotation more often.