D’Angelo Russell led Ohio State to an overtime win over VCU as the Buckeyes advanced into the Round of 32. The 6-foot-5 guard has been named NetScouts Basketball’s NCAA Tournament Player of the Day for games on March 19th.
Ohio State trailed by double-figures in the first half, but cut the deficit to one by halftime. It was a tight, back-and-forth battle in the second half and Ohio State got a crucial stop on the final possession to extend the game an extra five minutes. Russell then scored four of his team’s nine overtime points to seal a 75-72 win. He finished with 28 points and six rebounds while shooting 10-of-20 from the field and 4-of-7 from three-point range. The freshman battled through a cut above his eye to make his performance even more respectable.
“The kid loves to win,” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said of Russell in his postgame press conference. “He’s going to do whatever he can to win basketball games.”
Russell has been perhaps the best guard in the country and will be a Top-5 pick in the upcoming draft. He was a McDonald’s All-American out of high school, but wasn’t initially seen as a one-and-done candidate. At 6-foot-5, he’s shown the ability to play either guard position. Russell’s intrigue is as an NBA point guard due to his exceptional handle and passing ability for his size. He can create his own shot off the bounce and even made a defender fall on Thursday. While he had just one assist, Russell was a willing passer when double-teamed.
Ohio State now moves on to play Arizona for a chance to play in the Sweet 16. Arizona will be favored, but the game will give a great scouting opportunity for Russell. He’ll see NBA-caliber defenders in Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. If he shows the ability to score against some of the top perimeter defenders in the country, Russell could make a run at the number one pick.
Other Thursday Notes:
-Georgia State shooting guard R.J. Hunter was largely ineffective through 37 minutes on Thursday, hitting 1-of-8 field goals against Baylor with his only basket coming on an uncontested layup following a a steal. But with Georgia State trailing by 12 points with less than three minutes remaining, Hunter scored 12 of his team’s final 13 points to lead the Panthers to an improbable win. He knocked down the game winning three-pointer from roughly 30 feet with less than three seconds left to advance to the Round of 32. Hunter finished with 16 points while shooting 5-of-12 from the field and 2-of-7 from three-point range. He’ll face Xavier next and will look to find his offense earlier in the contest to advance into the Sweet 16.
-Harvard senior Wesley Saunders ended his career in a 67-65 loss to North Carolina, but he’ll be an intriguing shooting guard prospect to watch. He averaged 16.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game this season and was just as effective against the Tar Heels. Saunders had 26 points, five assists, and four rebounds while shooting 8-of-14 from the field and 2-of-3 from deep in the loss. The 6-foot-5 Saunders is more of a power, slashing guard, but he did shoot 41.4% from deep this season and had multiple mid-range finishes on Thursday. He may not get drafted, but Saunders is a guy to keep an eye on.
-Freshman 7-foot center Jakob Poeltl had a dominant display for Utah in a win over Stephen F. Austin. The Austrian product had 18 points on a perfect 7-of-7 shooting to go with eight rebounds and five blocks. He’s not a polished product, but will push for a first round selection if he declares for the NBA Draft. Athletic 7-footers are tough to find and Poeltl has immense upside that he flashed on Thursday.
–Michael Qualls and Bobby Portis were the engine to Arkansas’ 56-53 win over Wofford. Qualls, a 6-foot-6 junior wing, had 20 points on a near-perfect 8-of-9 shooting. He’s a big-time athlete, that showed with a soaring dunk in transition, who also knocked down both of his three-point attempts. Qualls has potential to be an elite perimeter defender at the next level, and if he can stretch a defense with his jumper, it would certainly help his stock. Portis, a likely lottery pick, had 15 points and 13 rebounds with a mammoth block in crunch time. The 6-foot-11 junior forward has great length to compensate for average athleticism and could make a living as a stretch four. He has an interesting matchup coming up against North Carolina’s frontline.
-The nation’s leading scorer, Tyler Harvey, had his junior season come to an end against Georgetown. Harvey scored 27 points while shooting 9-of-20 from the field and 6-of-12 from three-point range for Eastern Washington. He’s a lengthy 6-foot-4 shooting guard, but lacks ideal size or athleticism for the NBA. Harvey is a skilled scorer with a solid handle, deep range, and the ability to pull-up off the dribble. His lack of elite physical tools will hurt his stock, but he could earn a second round selection if he declares.
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