Ohio State men's basketball: Justin Ahrens’ coming-out party unlike any in OSU history

Adam Jardy
Ohio State freshman Justin Ahrens (10) scored 29 points against Iowa on Tuesday after totaling 38 points in the Buckeyes' first 27 games. [Brooke LaValley]

There is no exact parallel to what Justin Ahrens did Tuesday night for the Ohio State men’s basketball team.

In the Buckeyes’ 28th game of the season, a freshman who had scored 38 points and made nine three-pointers all season broke out with a historic performance to provide a major boost to his team’s NCAA Tournament hopes.

Ahrens’ 29-point showing against No. 22 Iowa tied him for the sixth-most points in program history for a freshman, and his six three-pointers (in 10 attempts) made him the only freshman aside from D’Angelo Russell to hit that mark.

Simply put, such a monster performance so late in the season from a player who had been largely relegated to the end of the bench for so much of the year has little comparison in Ohio State history.

“I can’t remember anything like that ever happening,” said Bob Hunter, a former Dispatch columnist and onetime OSU beat reporter. “In the first place, if you go back and look, (a player) scoring 29 points isn’t all that common. That’s quite a few points for a guy that if he scored 15, you’d be thrilled.

“I don’t remember that ever happening. That’s not to say it didn’t, but I covered a lot of OSU basketball in the last 40 years or something.”

A number of faces who have been around the program for significant periods of time offered similar viewpoints.

Longtime radio analyst and former team captain Ron Stokes recalled a 59-58 win against Wisconsin on Feb. 1, 2014, in which Amedeo Della Valle came off the bench to score 11 points. A sophomore, it was his fifth double-digit scoring game of the season.

“I can’t remember anybody that goes 2.1 points per game and then goes to 29,” Stokes said.

Matt McCoy, the former in-arena voice for the Buckeyes and sports director for WTVN-AM, recalled a 1998 game in which senior Eric Hanna scored nine points in 17 minutes in a double-overtime home loss to Penn State, the final game in St. John Arena.

For his career, Hanna averaged 1.1 points in 16 appearances across two seasons.

Many other longtime observers brought up the famous “Charles Bass off the glass,” when the freshman who hadn’t attempted a free throw all season banked in a game-winning foul shot against Michigan State during the 2003 Big Ten tournament.

The closest comparison to what Ahrens pulled off Tuesday seems to be a lightly used transfer guard from Oregon State during the 2002-03 season.

In his lone season with the Buckeyes, Emonte Jernigan poured in 21 points on 5-of-8 shooting from three-point range off the bench in a 73-68 win against Minnesota. For the season, he would average 4.1 points while averaging 15.0 minutes in 31 of Ohio State’s 32 games.

“What a blast from the past that name is,” McCoy said. “I do vaguely remember that game, but again, that’s still nothing like this. He was playing more than Ahrens was, although in the last couple of weeks we’ve seen it coming (from Ahrens). Not an explosion like that.”

Nothing, it seems, compares to what Ahrens did against the Hawkeyes. He scored as any points as Greg Oden ever did in a single game at Ohio State and more than all but three freshmen in program history — Jared Sullinger, Michael Redd and Russell.

After the Buckeyes’ 90-70 win, OSU coach Chris Holtmann couldn’t draw a comparison.

“I haven’t seen a 29-point explosion, but I’ve certainly seen freshmen emerge as key players in the last month and a half of the season because they understand the game better,” Holtmann said. “Their shot selection gets better. That I think I have seen, I can’t say I’ve seen something like this.”

What it means going forward is anyone’s guess. But for one night, it was historic.


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