While the mix on Ohio State men’s basketball roster of freshmen and seniors used to be an unusual combination, it is slowly becoming the norm for college basketball teams.
That particular situation also applies to the No. 16 Maryland Terrapins, the Buckeyes’ opponent Thursday night in Columbus.
The Terrapins, like the Buckeyes, are led by a freshman guard who is surrounded by an experienced supporting cast.
That guard, Melo Trimble, and Buckeye freshman D’Angelo Russell both lead their teams in scoring and take the court with a multitude of experience around them.
One of those experienced players, OSU senior guard Shannon Scott, said Wednesday that while he has given the young Buckeye some advice, particularly on defense, Russell has been able to learn as the season has progressed.
“I talked to him a little about using his length. I mean, he’s a 6-5 guard with great arm length. So I feel like he can have a step on people and still be able to recover and all that stuff, too, so I told him a couple things with that,” Scott said. “But a lot of it he’s just picking up on his own, just practicing more every day with it.”
Russell, who has shown his ability on offense, said after a win against Indiana on Sunday that he thinks his scoring opens the floor for his teammates.
“I feel like they (Indiana) were putting a lot of pressure on me. They were keying on me,” Russell said. “So it just made it easier for my teammates to step up and do what they do best. I give credit to all my teammates. They were making shots and finishing.”
OSU coach Thad Matta said Wednesday that Russell’s vision and ability to create for his teammates is something he has seen before in a former player.
“When we had Jared (Sullinger) that year (2011), it was so fun to coach because if things broke down, you would just scream, ‘Throw it to Jared,’ and you knew he was going to get fouled, he was going to get a great shot, or he was going to find Jon (Diebler), or David (Lighty) or Will (Buford) or whoever it was, something good was going to happen,” Matta said. “I think D’Angelo kind of has that. Into the shot clock he can score, but he also finds guys and makes them better, which is kind of a luxury as a coach to have.”
Russell’s ability to find open teammates was shown by a season-high 10 assists against the Hoosiers.
On the opposing sideline, Trimble brings a similar game to the court, which Matta said the Buckeyes have to be prepared for.
“He makes great decisions. He can score a lot of different ways, he gets to the foul line a lot. He seems to have a great command of his team in terms of getting guys where they need to be,” Matta said. “He makes great reads in transition and he is definitely a handful because of his quickness and ability to shoot the ball.”
Scott leads the Big Ten in assists per game (6.7) and is tied for third in steals per game (2.0), so he will likely draw the task of guarding Trimble throughout the game. He said Trimble is ahead of his time as a freshman at Maryland.
“He’s a very poised player, he doesn’t get sped up. He makes the right decision a lot of the time. He takes big shots and makes big shots,” Scott said. “He’s not one of those guys that just tries to fit in, he wants to be the big man on campus and he’s doing a great job with that at Maryland.”
OSU freshman forward Jae’Sean Tate said he saw a similar quality in Russell when they first came to campus.
“I already knew before we even got here that he was gonna be special. And like he (Scott) said, the first day of practice I was still in surgery or rehab, so I wasn’t able to practice,” Tate said. “But I watched, and like I said, he just came in and he took over.”
Russell has shown that he has the ability to take over games, as shown during a career-high night in Evanston, Ill., when he put up 33 of OSU’s 69 points in a win against Northwestern.
The Louisville, Ky., native is also second in the Big Ten in scoring with 19.4 points per game, showing a level of consistency that Matta said he is pleasantly surprised about.
“He’s had some ups and downs early on this season, but he’s been very steady in terms of what he’s been production-wise, and I see him getting better on the defensive end every time he takes the floor,” Matta said.
Russell and the Buckeyes are set to take on Trimble and the Terrapins at 7 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.