Bearing the Burden of a Team on His Shoulders, Has D'Angelo Russell Hit a Freshman Wall?

By Tim Shoemaker on February 23, 2015 at 2:15 pm
D'Angelo Russell picks himself up off the floor.

D'Angelo Russell, with a stern look on his face, slowly walked out of Ohio State's locker room at Crisler Center and leaned up against the wall as roughly 10 reporters crowded around him.

He didn't hesitate in his answer to the first question. It was almost like he knew what was coming.

"I'm good. I'm good," he said as a member of the media asked how he was doing physically.

Russell looked gassed. He looked exhausted. He looked like an 18-year-old kid (he turns 19 today) who had just spent the last four months carrying a team on his back.

Nobody can fault him for looking that way, though. Because, in reality, Russell has carried this Buckeyes team almost single-handedly throughout the first 27 games of the season.

He's having a first-team All-American type season for Ohio State averaging 19 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. He's shooting nearly 43 percent from behind the 3-point line and over 46 percent from the field.

All of that seemed like it had wore him down, though, as he stood outside the Buckeyes locker room following their 64-57 loss at Michigan on Sunday. Russell, however, insisted he was fine.

"Teams know who I am so they're really picking up on, I guess, my tendencies so I guess I gotta be better, but I wouldn't say a freshman wall and whatnot," Russell said. "I just gotta keep getting in the gym and keep getting better."

Hitting that freshman wall isn't something uncommon for a lot of players who make the leap from the high school to the college game. It's just a different level of play. The physicality of the game — especially in the Big Ten — can take its toll on someone.

Russell, though, has looked unflappable throughout the better part of this season. But since posting just the fourth triple-double in Ohio State history Feb. 8 in a win over Rutgers, he has gone just 14 for 41 from the field over the last three games. The Buckeyes are just 1-2.

"We’ve got to obviously get him the rest that he needs and those types of things but I just want to make sure his heads in the right place and he’s thinking the right thoughts just in terms of what he has to do every time he takes the floor," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. "He’s a winner and he’ll do whatever we ask him to do.”

The Buckeyes have just four games remaining in their regular-season. After back-to-back losses for the first time all season, they're trending in the wrong direction as Selection Sunday approaches.

If Russell can get back to his normal self, Ohio State always has a chance in any game it plays. He needs some help, though. He can't do everything by himself.

"I don't want to say it the wrong way, but we go as our seniors go and me playing the way that I've been playing earlier in the year, I'm not considering myself a a freshman anymore. I kind of consider myself a senior or an upperclassmen that people can look up to," Russell said. "The better we play as a core, the better we'll be as a team and we gotta bring it every game."

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