His teammates missed one shot, then another and another. Over the course of the four minutes, 11 seconds he rode the pine with four fouls, Ohio State missed all seven shots from the field and both free throws, scoring zero points. The deficit against No. 5 Louisville went from 13 to 18, and the clock went from 16:18 to 12:07.
“I was just being observant,” he said. “I noticed we couldn’t put the ball in the hole. I know that’s something that I’m OK at doing, so I was just basically trying to do that and get us points.”
He shot just 2 for 10 over the first 28 minutes of what became a 64-55 road loss to the Cardinals. His stat line one he re-entered the game with four fouls wasn’t that much better – he shot 4 for 10 to finish 6 for 20 – but it still doubled his previous shooting percentage.
“Me, personally, 6 for 20, I feel like if I would have made eight shots it would have been a better turnout for the team,” he said. “I was taking the shots and I don’t feel like they were bad shots, I just couldn’t put them in. I know my teammates respect me for taking the blame for that, but I just feel like I wasn’t making the shots that I usually make.”
Still his return to the court was a boost to the Buckeyes, who trimmed the deficit as close as three in the final minute. The Louisville native was the only Ohio State player to record an assist, dishing out seven helpers to tie with Louisville guard and Youngstown, Ohio, native Terry Rozier for the game high in that category.
Although he wasn’t in foul trouble, Ohio State senior point guard Shannon Scott played just eight minutes in the second half. In his absence, it was Russell who ran the point for the Buckeyes. The offense looked better than it did in the first half, which Russell described as a team-wide epidemic of “trying to hoop instead of running the system.”
“When we struggled as much as we struggled in the first half we were looking for just getting some type of offensive continuity,” Ohio State assistant coach Dave Dickerson said. “And D’Angelo, even though he didn’t shoot the ball well from the field, we thought he competed well and the pressure didn’t bother him. Putting him on the basketball in the second half really paid dividends for us.”
Dickerson said that while the Ohio State coaches need Russell to play well, they also recognize that he’s only a freshman and aren’t in any sort of rush to give him more than he can handle.
He also shot down the notion that this was any sort of changing of the guard from Scott to Russell. Scott, after all, entered the Louisville game leading the nation by averaging more than 10 assists per game.
“As coaches you do what you need to do to try to win the game and obviously we felt comfortable with D’Angelo the last 15 minutes of the game,” Dickerson said. “I thought he did a great job of handling their pressure and finding our shooters. That doesn’t signify that we’re making a change in our program. Shannon Scott is an important person in our program, and we’re going to continue to ride him and he will bounce back.”
What tonight showed, though, is that Russell’s importance will likely continue to grow as the season progresses. Even when his shot wasn’t falling, he still found a way to impact the game.