Russell is averaging 17.7 points per game through 15 games this season to go along with 5.1 assists and 4.5 rebounds. In each of Ohio State’s three losses, however, he has struggled.
“He's a kid that cares, he wants to play well,” head coach Thad Matta said. “D'Angelo's very, very hard on himself. At times, maybe a little bit too hard. But I think back to all the great players I've coached and they're pretty brutal to themselves. It's a learning process and he's a kid that wants to learn. From my perspective, that's exciting.”
That was Matta moments after the Buckeyes earned their first Big Ten win, a 77-61 victory over visiting Illinois Saturday. Russell had a nice afternoon, scoring a game-high 22 points to go with four assists. That’s unsurprising considering the Buckeyes won. In the Buckeyes three losses this season, the freshman combo guard has been less than stellar.
In 12 wins, Russell has averaged 18.7 points on 53 percent shooting, while in three losses he’s tallied just 13.7 points per game on an ugly 26.4 percent shooting. Clearly the increased competition that Louisville, North Carolina and Iowa brought to those defeats made the freshman less effective, but they also seemed to impact his approach.
In losses Russell has taken eight threes per game, connecting on a ghastly 16.7 percent compared to hitting 53 percent of his 5.5 threes per game in wins. While a stagnating offense leads to more desperation threes, and that was certainly the case in some of the losses, Russell also appeared to force his long jumpers in the defeats.
He said he has been trying to stay within the system.
“My role on the team is create for others and make shots and do whatever coach needs me to do,” Russell said. “Throughout the previous games coach has been big on me on making shots and taking the right shots. I know if I miss one or air ball one, I have to get through it, no matter if it’s early in the game or late in the game I have to take shots.”
So far, he hasn’t had to take as many in wins. Russell averages just over 12 shots per game in wins against nearly 18 per game in losses. That could be the freshman star pressing, but could also be a product of his teammates underperforming.
Clearly, Russell is an important player for the Buckeyes. He leads the team in percentage of possessions used, ending 29.6 percent of the team’s possessions according to KenPom. Among players with 28 percent or more possessions used, Russell has the highest offensive rating in the Big Ten.
It seems Ohio State will go so far as Russell is able to take them. Matta knows it, and has seen progress from the freshman lately.
“I think just in his mind slowing down a little bit, focusing in,” the coach said. “He's watched a ton of tape. I came in yesterday and he was sitting by himself watching tape and he's definitely a kid who cares. He knows that he hasn't played particularly well in the losses and I swear he's a winner. He wants to win, he wants to do well, not only for himself but probably most importantly for the team.”