The Ohio State men's basketball signee's Canal Winchester, Ohio, squad had just lost to Cincinnati Withrow in the closing game of the National City Classic Saturday at Value City Arena, but Mullens was philosophical. As his senior year nears a close, the 7-0 center will attempt to guide his squad to a Division II state title, and the loss to Division I Withrow showed exactly where the Indians have to improve to hold the hardware in March.
"You don't see a team like this every day," he said. "Cincinnati Withrow is a strong team, and they probably have about four Division I scholarship players on their team. We're going to learn from it. In our league, we're beating teams by 20 or so. When we get up against these teams, we're going to have to go all out and hopefully we get a win out of it. We're going to get better."
Mullens was right about his team's domination of its Central Ohio foes. The Indians are 8-0 in the Mid-State League Buckeye Division after Tuesday's 76-58 win over Teays Valley. A day before the National City Classic, Mullens poured in 21 points during a 95-59 whitewashing of Amanda-Clearcreek.
That's why the game against Withrow and 6-9 forward prospect Yancy Gates was so important. Going up against the future Cincinnati Bearcat, Mullens finished with 16 points and a game-high 19 rebounds during a last-second, 58-57 loss to the Tigers. The performance showed off some of the finer points Mullens said he has improved upon during his high school career.
"I'd say timing of my game, letting the game come to me," the 7-0 center said. "Boxing out and getting offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds: that's the most improved."
But the game also showed where Scout's No. 2 center and No. 6 overall player could use some improvement. After going toe-to-toe with Gates during the first half and coming out with 15 points, Mullens had just one point – on a free throw with 1:23 left – during the second half.
"I thought he had some nice looks there in the third quarter, he just didn't put a couple in," Canal Winchester head coach Kent Riggs said. "He had a couple of offensive rebounds that he didn't put back in. I'm not sure how many touches he got. Their pressure kind of took that out of the game a little bit, but it would have been nice to get him a few more."
One would figure Mullens was rusty going against a quality big man considering how few of those he goes up against on a daily basis, but those second-half struggles when it came to filling up the cylinder left Mullens determined not to let that be his last memory of his future home during his high school career.
"We'll definitely be back here in March. I'll make sure of that," said Mullens, whose Canal Winchester team is ranked eighth in the Division II poll. "I'm going to make my teammates better. I'm going to go watch some film on this game and get better from it."
While in Columbus, Mullens was able to talk to part of his future coaching staff. The Buckeyes had just returned home from their loss to Purdue, and the staff checked out the final moments of the showdown.
"I just talked to coach (John) Groce," Mullens said. "They saw a little bit of the game. He just told me to keep my head up. It's a good loss. It's not like a loss to some Division IV team or some unheard of school. It's all good. We're going to learn from it."