Justin Ahrens Snaps Out of Extended Shooting Slump With 14-Point Performance Against Maryland

By Griffin Strom on February 6, 2022 at 5:12 pm
Justin Ahrens

A two-month slump came to a merciful end for Justin Ahrens Sunday.

In the second game since losing his starting job for the Buckeyes, the senior captain sprang to life against Maryland, knocking down four 3-pointers – and three before his first miss – in a 14-point performance that marked his highest scoring total since Dec. 8. Ahrens’ 3-point stroke provided a spark for the Ohio State offense in its 82-67 win against Maryland, and his return to form is no small development for the Buckeyes.

“Obviously I’m a shooter, so when I’m not making shots, I feel like I’m almost useless out there,” Ahrens said after the game. “The coaches told me I’m one guy that can be out on the court and not hit shots and still have a positive impact on the game with a bunch of different things: My communication, rebounding, talking on defense, just the little things that some guys don’t bring to the floor. Just staying with it each and every day was the main thing for me to get through that stretch.”

Not only did Ahrens not start against Maryland, but he wasn’t even one of the first three players off the bench for Ohio State, as Cedric Russell, Kyle Young and Joey Brunk all saw the court before Ahrens got an opportunity. While noteworthy, it wasn’t exactly shocking given Ahrens’ recent struggles.

During a nine-game stretch that started with a Buckeye win against Wisconsin on Dec. 11, Ahrens averaged only 3.7 points per game, down from 9.1 in Ohio State’s nine games before that. Through the first nine games, Ahrens shot 44.4 percent from 3-point range, but that dropped off to 21.4 percent in the subsequent nine.

“It’s frustrating because it feels like the whole fan base is against you when you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing,” Ahrens said. “But for me it was just one day at a time. Just being an everyday guy like I’ve been all four years here.”

After starting the first 17 games in a row for the Buckeyes, Ahrens was removed from the lineup for the first time in Ohio State’s road loss at Purdue last Sunday. Ahrens logged just 11 minutes for the Buckeyes, scored only three points and shot 1-for-4 from deep. It was the sixth straight game in which Ahrens had knocked down one or fewer threes for Ohio State, despite attempting at least four in each of those games.

But Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said Ahrens’ attitude thereafter is a credit to his leadership and professionalism for the Buckeyes.

“You would never have noticed any difference in Justin Ahrens the next time we came to practice,” Holtmann said. “He was the loudest, the most energized, the best talker in practice, and that is a mature kid. When I talk about pro’s pro, that’s exactly what it looks like. Most kids, when they have a bad game – and if you lose – they come in and they don’t have the same spirit that Justin had. His spirit has not waned through this stretch.”

Even if Ahrens wasn’t showing it in practice, Holtmann said the Versailles, Ohio, native was going through internal struggles as a result of his on-court performance over the past couple months.

“When a guy’s as prolific as he’s been – he’s been one of the best shooters we’ve had, consistently, for four years – he’s never had a stretch like this. So I think he got really frustrated,” Holtmann said. “But again, he’s too good a shooter to shoot like this the rest of the year.”

There was no reason for disappointment on Sunday, though. Ahrens sank his first three of the game at the 10:12 mark of the first, part of a 7-0 Buckeye run as Ohio State mounted an early double-digit lead, and he wasn’t done there. It took nine minutes of game time for Ahrens to take another shot, but when he did, he hit his second straight for the Buckeyes with 1:12 to play in the half.

The second Ahrens triple gave Ohio State its largest lead of the game at that point, a 42-27 advantage over the Terps, and his shooting would only increase that edge in the second half. Ahrens pushed the Buckeye lead to 21 points with his third 3-point attempt of the game 7:21 into the second half.

Perhaps Ahrens’ biggest three of the day came in the final few minutes, as Maryland came alive in an attempt at one final push late. The Terps cut the Buckeye lead down to as few as 11 points, but down 13 with 3:31 to play, Ahrens knocked down another long-range bomb to effectively snuff out any remaining hopes for Maryland.

Ahrens missed his final two 3-pointers to finish the afternoon, including one air ball that came up well short of the rim, but his 4-for-7 performance could do wonders for his confidence moving forward.

“When you hit two or three in a row, you definitely get a rhythm and start to feel yourself. … I’ve learned the last two weeks just to brush it off,” Ahrens said. “There’s a lot more games to play. The game’s fast, you can’t just sit back and dwell on every mistake you make. If you do that, you’re just gonna keep making more mistakes. One thing I really learned was just to keep it pushing, keep doing you, keep playing hard. Impact the game any way you can.”

If Ahrens can consistently hit threes like he did Sunday, the Buckeyes will have a vital weapon back at their disposal, and one that is sure to come in handy in the final 10 games of the regular season.

View 26 Comments