Ohio State Forwards Justin Ahrens, Kyle Young Shoulder Scoring Load For Buckeyes With Big Nights Against Towson

By Griffin Strom on December 9, 2021 at 10:10 am
Justin Ahrens

Entering Wednesday night, Justin Ahrens and Kyle Young had each appeared in exactly 90 games for the Buckeyes since becoming teammates in 2018.

Never once in any of those contests had both players scored at least 15 points in the same game. That is, not until Wednesday.

The pair of senior captains combined for 34 points against Towson. Young led the Buckeyes with 18 and Ahrens was not far behind with 16 of his own. The occasion marked just the fourth time both players had even tallied double-digit points in the same game as collegiate teammates. Their scoring load accounted for 40 percent of the Buckeye offense in the 85-74 win, and it was the duo’s 3-point shooting that made the difference against an upset-minded Towson team that wouldn’t go away easily.

“It’s been feeling good. It helps when you have teammates that believe in you and have confidence in you, coaches that want you to shoot the ball,” said Young, who missed the first game of the season and part of the preseason due to a vestibular dysfunction issue. “Just getting back into this rhythm, that’s been nice, seeing something go through the net, and I’m just gonna keep working on it, keep getting reps up and keep shooting.”

During one stretch in particular as the second half began to wind down, the aforementioned pair scored 12 straight points for Ohio State while the Tigers could hardly miss a shot of their own. Ahrens should earn the bulk of the credit, scoring 10 straight by himself before a layup from Young, and the Versailles, Ohio, native knocked down three straight shots from beyond the arc as part of the remarkable run.

“Justin’s shooting’s been phenomenal. It’s just been phenomenal,” Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said after the game. “He’s really had a good year for us. I know there’s been a game or two when he wasn’t his best, but he’s really had a good year, and he’s just got to keep getting better.”

In just a 24-second span during that stretch, Ahrens let fly a 3-pointer from either side of the court on back-to-back possessions for the Buckeyes, and each one came without a split second’s hesitation on the catch-and-shoot release. The first Ahrens make came on a deep shot near the left sideline to give Ohio State a 13-point lead, and when Towson responded with two free throws, a pass upcourt to break the Tiger press found his hands again.

The shot was good once again, and to the unabashed delight of the Ohio State bench, Ahrens was fouled on the attempt as well.

“It opens up a lot for us. Teams can’t really double when he’s hitting, because if you leave him, I’m just gonna throw it back out and he’s gonna hit,” Ohio State forward Zed Key said. “It’s good when he’s shooting well, especially tonight, he was hitting everything. I’m proud of him, glad that he was hitting. Just keep shooting, we tell him if he’s a little bit open, shoot it. He’s one of the best shooters in the Big Ten and in the country, so shoot it.”

That three on the four-point play from Ahrens was already his third triple of the half alone, and he knocked down a fourth just 1:04 later to stop a quick 6-0 Towson run that saw Ohio State’s lead shrink to 10 points with 5:38 to play. Ahrens finished at a 5-for-10 clip from distance on the night to tie his season-high for 3-point makes.

Thirteen of Ahrens’ points came in the second half alone, and Young scored the exact same amount in the final 20 minutes. The fifth-year forward went 5-for-5 from the floor in the second period and got to the line on six occasions. Two of those free-throw attempts completed and-one opportunities as Young displayed his improved ability to create shots off the bounce, driving the ball into the paint and finishing through contact on both plays to create some much-needed breathing room for the Buckeyes early in the second half.

Young also had a couple of timely 3-pointers for Ohio State, one in the first half and one in the second, and his ability to step out and knock down a shot from distance is no longer a novelty. After hitting all four of his 3-point attempts against Penn State Sunday and another two Wednesday, Young is 6-for-6 in the past two games and is suddenly shooting a hair under 53 percent from deep for the season.

“Their defense is really good, they really gap you up. Kyle, with time and space, he really shoots the ball well. He can really make threes,” Holtmann said. “I thought also he drove it at times tonight, which is really critical.” 

Young has now led the Buckeyes in scoring in two straight contests, and the Canton native has only missed one shot from the floor in those ballgames. Even more impressive is that Young is doing it in a new role as sixth man this season, playing off the bench with regularity for the first time since he was a true sophomore.

For a pair of players who might not have been expected to be among the top three scorers on the team this season, senior captain status or otherwise, Ahrens and Young have shown they are plenty capable of exploding on offense on any given night, and the Buckeyes are all the more dynamic because of it.

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