Justin Ahrens shooting for bigger role in Ohio State men's basketball offense

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Forward Justin Ahrens, shown shooting against Purdue's Ryan Cline on Jan. 23, 2019, has hit 39.6 from three-point range in two seasons at Ohio State.

After a healthy offseason, Justin Ahrens is listed at 6 feet 6 and 195 pounds on the official Ohio State men’s basketball roster.

Physically, he doesn’t match the size of either Andre Wesson or Kaleb Wesson, both of whom are pursuing professional careers. Athletically, he possesses a different skill set than either of them. Yet as the Buckeyes look to replace the Wesson-sized hole in their offensive game plan, it’s Ahrens who has the best opportunity to step into that void.

As coach Chris Holtmann looks to replace his two most accurate three-point shooters from a season ago, Ahrens has shot his way to the top of the list. A junior, Ahrens has proven himself a dangerous deep shooter in small sample sizes – and one breakout performance as a freshman against Iowa, where he exploded for 29 points – who led the team in nearly every shooting category during this past offseason.

More:Ohio State men's basketball power rankings: No. 8 Justin Ahrens

It now has him in line for the first consistent playing time of his career.

“I think his shooting and floor spacing and then just his understanding of how to play the game, I think it’s going to be important for our team,” Holtmann told The Dispatch. “Certainly he played in a complementary role last year and I would expect his minutes to be more consistent this year, hopefully.”

The lack of playing time hasn’t entirely been in Ahrens’ control. He has averaged 9.8 minutes per game during his first two seasons that include a sophomore year significantly limited by a back injury suffered during summer workouts that cost him a few months of practice. He’s also shot 39.6% from three (42 for 106) so far, showing a smooth, left-handed stroke that he’s worked to further refine this offseason.

More than just getting his shot off quicker, though, Ahrens said he’s been more focused on the other end of the court in his effort to see more consistent playing time.

“I’ve always been good at shooting,” Ahrens said. “I know for me to stay on the floor, to be a 20-minute-a-game, 30-minute-a-game guy, I have to be able to defend. That’s something I’ve gotten a lot better at over the summer.”

Last season, Kaleb Wesson led the Buckeyes in three-point shooting at 42.5%, just ahead of brother Andre at 42.2%. They attempted 106 and 102 threes, respectively, while Duane Washington Jr. led the team with 140 attempts and shot 39.3%. Ohio State led the Big Ten in three-point shooting at 37.3%.

During the quarantine, Ahrens was able to work on his strength in his family’s weight room, he said, and his overall game at a nearby private gym. It allowed him to focus on some of the finer points of shooting, from getting his shot off quicker to developing counters for when opposing defenses attempt to run him off the three-point line.

“There’s a difference between being a good shooter and an elite shooter,” Ahrens said. “One thing I’ve been trying to do this summer is get myself to that elite level.”

That also means not passing up shots, something Ahrens has occasionally done during his first two seasons. Of his 15 made three-pointers in Big Ten play last season, 10 came in three games, seven of them in back-to-back wins against Northwestern and Indiana. Ahrens did not score during Ohio State’s final five games of last season and attempted only four shots during that stretch, all of them threes.

If he wants to play more, he’s going to have to shoot more.

“The past two years, I was an 8- to 10-minute guy,” Ahrens said. “Obviously I’m not sure what this season is going to look like, how many minutes I’m going to play a game, but I feel like I’m going to be a lot better than I have in the past two seasons.”

The Buckeyes are counting on that to be the case.