TUSCALOOSA — A day before facing its biggest rival, Alabama announced it will head to Auburn without its second-leading scorer.
Tony Mitchell, the high-flying junior swingman, was suspended indefinitely by coach Anthony Grant as the Crimson Tide readied for a trip to Auburn.
It was an “accumulation” of “conduct detrimental to the team” that led to the disciplinary action against Mitchell,” Grant said. The decision came Saturday night after Mitchell’s 14 point-night against Ole Miss was his best since the SEC opener against Georgia.
Coming off the bench for the first time this season, Mitchell scored six in the two overtime periods of the Tide’s 69-67 win.
This was the first suspension Grant handed down this season after sitting several starters in his first two seasons at Alabama. Senior JaMychal Green was one who missed action last year for disciplinary reasons.
Green spoke with Mitchell after the suspension and urged him not to do “anything dumb and stupid.” Mitchell’s 13.1-point scoring average trails only Green’s 13.8 a game.
“That was the main point of going to talk to him because I’ve been through it,” Green said. “I told him you can’t come back with a bad attitude. You have to come back with a new state of mind and just get better from it.”
The suspension marked another landmark in a season packed with highs and lows for the Swainsboro, Ga., product. He averaged 18 points in the opening four wins of the season and had reached double figures in 15 of the first 16 games.
Mitchell’s season-high 26 points came in the Tide’s best win, 70-60 over Wichita State in Puerto Rico. The Shockers were ranked 27th in the RPI ratings released Monday that had Alabama No. 31.
Mitchell’s one-handed ally-oop finishes and follow dunks made him a regular on ESPN’s SportsCenter in November and December.
Entering SEC play averaging 15.1 points a game, his scoring production dropped dramatically. Mitchell’s average dipped to 9.8 points in the eight games of conference play. That included the first scoreless game of his Alabama career against Vanderbilt as part of the Tide’s first four-game losing streak in two seasons.
“You guys have made a lot of about the scoring end of things but I’ve never made that something I’ve focused on with any of our guys,” Grant said last Thursday.
Without naming names, Grant said the Tide (15-7, 4-4 SEC) was playing an “entitled” brand of basketball after losing Jan. 25 at South Carolina. It remains the only SEC win for a Gamecock team tied for last place in the league with Georgia.
Freshman Trevor Lacey recently said the team missed the spark they’d get from one of the athletic dunks that became Mitchell’s trademark.
But Saturday, after a one-handed slam by Mitchell preceded an 11-0 first-half Ole Miss run. A few minutes later, Mitchell took a shot to the head and was helped to the locker room by teammates. Grant said the team medical staff kept him from playing until being cleared with 10 minutes to play.
Two dunks and two free throws later, Mitchell helped the Tide to the win. But it could be the last time he’s seen in an Alabama jersey for a while. Grant offered no time table for his potential return.
For a team that’s lost three straight conference road games, the timing of Mitchell’s departure isn’t ideal.
“It hurts because Tony is such a big part of what we do,” junior forward Andrew Steele said. “We feel like we can be a better team with him on the court, but like I said, we have to trust coach’s judgment. I guess he feels like he’s doing what’s in the best interest for the team. We have to focus on getting a win (tonight).”
Grant had already been experimenting with the lineup before the suspension. He played 11 players for the second time in league play against Ole Miss when starters scored just one more point than the bench’s 34.
Sophomore Charles Hankerson along freshmen Nick Jacobs and Levi Randolph could see bumps in playing time as long as Mitchell is suspended.
Mitchell’s two seasons
Games: 14 …………8
Points: 15.1 ……….9.8
Rebounds: 7.4 ……6.5
Scoring high: 26 ….17