From the moment he arrived at Ohio State, D.J. Carton brought an excitement level not seen since D’Angelo Russell roamed the basketball court at Value City Arena.
Wednesday night, for the first time, he will take those talents to the national spotlight.
Sixth-ranked Ohio State’s road game against No. 7 North Carolina will not only feature two of the nation’s top 10 teams, but also two of the nation’s best freshmen in a head-to-head matchup that could take top billing.
Not that Carton said he is looking at the chance to go against Cole Anthony as anything other than another game.
“I’m just looking forward to playing North Carolina itself,” Carton, second on the Buckeyes in scoring at 10.4 points per game, said after Friday’s win over Morgan State. “I’m looking forward to a hard-fought game with two good teams.”
In Anthony, the Tar Heels signed a five-star point guard who was the No. 4 national recruit and the top combo guard in the country, according to the 247Sports.com composite rankings.
At one point a five-star prospect himself, Carton enrolled at Ohio State as a four-star recruit who was ranked as high as No. 21 nationally before winding up at No. 34. He was the No. 4 point guard recruit in his class.
Anthony burst onto the scene with a 34-point scoring night in his debut, a win against Notre Dame. He leads the Tar Heels in scoring at 20.7 points per game, has taken 27.1 percent of their field-goal attempts and attempted more than twice as many shots as all but one of his teammates.
Carton is playing starters’ minutes as a reserve, has taken the second-most shots among the Buckeyes and has found himself featured on SportsCenter’s Top 10 on at least three occasions.
“I’m pretty close with him,” Carton said of Anthony. “I’ve played him in the past at a couple camps in high school.”
The challenge for Carton as a freshman has been to not play at too fast a pace and to instead let the game come to him. It’s a task that will be made significantly more difficult with his first road game coming at the former home of Michael Jordan, Vince Carter and other legends of the sport.
Carton has a teammate who knows what he’ll experience Wednesday night at the Dean E. Smith Center. Junior point guard CJ Walker went to Chapel Hill as a freshman for Florida State and finished with six points and one assist in 14 minutes off the bench in a 96-83 loss to the Tar Heels.
Carton and Walker will be teamed up in the Ohio State backcourt early and often against North Carolina, and the veteran had some advice for the freshman.
“It’s going to get loud in the arena if they make a run or they make a big-time play,” Walker said. “Always have poise and know the game is still the same, it’s just in a different environment.
“He’s going to go out there and make the right play to help us win, and play hard. I don’t think it’s anything personal or ‘This is my game to shine’ or anything like that.”
It might turn out that way, though.