There's no doubt that D'Angelo Russell is the best freshman to put on an Ohio State uniform since Jared Sullinger. Russell leads the Buckeyes in scoring at just under 18 points per game, and is second in rebounding, assists, and steals.
The 6'5" newcomer has shown game and poise beyond his years. It's scary to think of where Ohio State (13-4, 2-2 in Big Ten play) would be this season without him.
Still, in the four games the Buckeyes have played on the road, three of which have been losses, Russell has struggled mightily. If Ohio State is to be more than a middle of the pack Big Ten team and play more than a game or two in the NCAA tournament, Russell simply must play better when away from home. As he goes, so go the Buckeyes.
In Saturday's 69-66 loss to Indiana in Bloomington, Russell shot just 3 of 15 from the floor, including 1 of 5 from three-point range, for 13 points. Were it not for a 6 of 7 effort from the free throw line, it would have been an even rougher day for Ohio State's Agent Zero.
Russell has shot a paltry 33.3 percent (23 of 69) from the floor in the team's four road games. If you take away the red-hot first half against Minnesota on Tuesday night, in which he made 10 of 12 shots and put up 25 points, that shooting number becomes an even more dismal 22.8 percent (13 of 57). The advanced stats show big dips in true shooting and effective field goal percentages in road games as well.
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Given the perimeter struggles of everyone else on the team this season with the exception of Marc Loving, who himself is 0-6 from three-point range in the past two games, the Buckeyes must get better play out of Russell on the road to win.
In the freshman's defense, most players have difficulty against the likes of Louisville and North Carolina, and Minnesota and Indiana are two of the tougher places to play in the Big Ten. The supporting cast has also struggled in road games, putting more pressure on Russell to perform, which is a lot to ask of a kid who is still just 18 years old.
"The great thing about him is he wants to take the shot," Matta said of Russell. "He doesn't remember the last shot. He says, 'Hey, give me the next one.'"
Ohio State will need Russell to have a short memory after Saturday's performance in Bloomington, with a home game against rival Michigan on Tuesday night. Two more road games, including a tough test against Iowa next Saturday, follow the showdown with the Wolverines.
"We definitely don't want him to stop being aggressive," senior captain Shannon Scott said. "When he's an aggressive player, he's one of the hardest players in the country to stop. So we definitely want him to keep doing that."