Mitchell making difference for Billikens

Saint Louis paid the price last season when it was forced to go with freshmen and sophomores in key roles.

The Billikens finished with a 12-19 record and a quick one-and-done appearance against Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament.

They are still young, but having Kwamain Mitchell back on the floor has given them a proven leader. The junior was suspended just before last season began for school disciplinary reasons and took a redshirt season when he returned the second semester.

The 5-10 junior guard was averaging in double figures at 12.4 points a game through the Billikens' first 10 games. He was second on the team in three-pointers with 18 in 52 attempts.

"Certainly that was a big blow not having him," said assistant coach Jim Whitesell, who filled in for a traveling Rick Majerus on the A-10's first coaches' teleconference. "Him coming back has been more of a confidence boost and certainly a guy who can make a basket for us.

"The thing that coach is real happy about with Kwam is that he's got 38 assists and 20 turnovers. So he's done a nice job taking care of the basketball as well as scoring.

"That's really helped us. It certainly added to our quickness and ball pressure."

The other key to the early success was the return of junior forward Cody Ellis, whose season was cut short by a shoulder injury last Feb. 5. Ellis did not start any of the Billikens' first 10 games but was their second-leading scorer at 12.6 points a game.

"Having those two guys back at full speed has certainly helped our program," Whitesell said.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Saint Louis gave Rick Majerus his 500th victory as a coach with the 72-62 victory over Illinois-Springfield on Dec. 10. It was his 78th win as the Billikens' boss. He also had 323 wins at Utah, 56 at Marquette, and 43 at Ball State.

--Through games of Dec. 4, Saint Louis was 15th nationally in field goal percentage (50.0). Over their next two games, the Billikens saw their percentage slip to 48.6.

--The 6-10 conference record for Saint Louis last season was the sub-.500 mark for the Billikens since they were 7-9 in 2007-08.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Junior G Kwamain Mitchell -- Mitchell became the 25th Billiken to join the 1,000-point club when he scored 10 points in the win over Vermont. That gave him 1,001 for his career. He added 22 more in the win over Illinois-Springfield in his next outing. He leads the Billikens in assists as well with 38 in 10 games.

KEY CONFERENCE GAME: Jan. 4 at Dayton -- All the success Saint Louis has had in the non-conference season is called into question if the Billikens start off with a bad performance in their conference opener. And Dayton can be tough at home, having knocked off Alabama in the UD Arena in early December.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You feel like you're sitting next to a guy who's pretty smart." -- Assistant coach Jim Whitesell, on being on the bench next to head coach Rick Majerus and his 500 wins.

LINEUP BREAKDOWN: Saint Louis has gone with the same starting lineup for all 10 games, and coach Rick Majerus has pretty much gone with four subs off the bench on a regular basis. G Jordair Jett actually was third in playing time (22.7 minutes a game) even though he hadn't started in any of his 10 appearances. The lineup has balanced scoring (three in double figures) but was getting outrebounded by about one a game in the early going.

ROSTER REPORT

--G Kyle Cassity was shooting 54.8 percent from three-point range through the first nine games but went 0-of-3 against Illinois-Springfield. Still, he was hitting 50 percent (17-of-34) from behind the arc through 10 games. He was only 6-of-11 on two-point tries over the stretch.

--Senior F Brian Conklin led the Billikens in scoring through the first 10 games with his 16.0 average.

--Junior F Cody Ellis went 2-of-3 from three-point range against Illinois-Springfield to raise his three-point percentage to 49.4.

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