Despite being a five star recruit coming out of high school, D’Angelo Russell remained relatively under the radar heading into his freshman season at Ohio State. Many draft sites didn’t even have him listed on mock drafts, and it seemed like he was oddly being overlooked. The lack of attention didn’t last for long, though.
With strong play, it took Russell merely half of a college season to crack the top ten in the 2015 NBA Mock Draft done by DraftExpress, the most reputable NBA draft site by far. In just his third college game, Russell scored thirty-two points against Sacred Heart. Current Boston Celtic Jared Sullinger holds the record for most points in a game by an Ohio State freshman with forty.
Given the explosive nature of Russell’s game and his ability to put up points in a variety of ways, it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see him break that record at some point this season. On Tuesday, Sullinger’s record appeared to be in danger in Russell’s first ever B1G contest, when the freshman scorched the earth, scoring twenty-five points in the first half against the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Russell shot 10-for-12 from the floor in the first half and 5-for-5 from beyond the arc. He flashed his entire scoring arsenal, showing NBA scouts the immense skill he brings to the table. He scored with ease off the bounce, showing excellent body control in the air and good awareness when it comes to changing speeds. On multiple occasions, he stopped on a dime for a pull-up jumper, and when it was appropriate he accelerated all the way into the paint for a floater or an easy layup. He demonstrated his skill playing off the ball as well by knocking down three three-pointers in spot-up situations.
Minnesota’s lackluster defensive execution in the first half certainly played a huge role in Russell’s outlandish scoring performance, but it was impressive to watch nonetheless. Even when Minnesota was playing good defense, Russell was elusive enough to shake free and find just enough space to fire up a shot.
The game went much differently for Russell after the first half. He was held scoreless by a staunch Minnesota defense in the final two quarters, and mustered only two points in the overtime period. The two points in overtime were huge free throws with a little more than a minute remaining that ended up helping Ohio State seal the victory, but Russell struggled overall to get anything going.
Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino had a solid game plan to defend Russell after the half, and his players executed it flawlessly. The referees let the players get physical, and that played into Minnesota’s favor. With the considerable amount of contact allowed, they were able to force Russell to catch the ball at least several feet behind the three-point line nearly every time he touched the ball. When he was able to penetrate or come off of a ball screen, one or two help defenders were always there to turn Russell back out to the perimeter.
A clear expression of frustration showed on Russell’s face when Minnesota’s defense clamped down on him, making it crystal clear that despite his impressive first half performance he is still a freshman taking everything in stride. Every NBA team seriously considering drafting Russell in the upcoming draft will watch the tape from this game to get a look at the two contrasting sides of his game, but it will be difficult not to fall in love with him after watching his dazzling performance in the first half.