Buckeyes remain confident in Justin Ahrens despite shooting slump
Ryan Pedon and Justin Ahrens had a conversation Thursday night.
Earlier, No. 16 Ohio State had taken a 10-point loss at No. 13 Wisconsin while suffering through its worst 3-point shooting night in nearly three years. At the crux of the struggle was Ahrens, the team’s most prolific and dangerous shooter who had gone 1 for 4 from deep in the loss.
It continued what has been a tough spell for the senior captain in the four games since returning from a COVID-19 pause, and as the team’s offensive coordinator, Pedon had some advice for Ahrens.
In short: keep shooting, and stay the course.
“I said, ‘Think back on your career and when you’ve been your best or you’ve shot great or played well. How many of those times were you in a frustrated state? Were you upset? Were you hanging your head?’ ” Pedon said Saturday. “Hopefully giving him some perspective.”
When did the shooting slump start for Justin Ahrens?
A little history lesson is probably a good thing for all parties. After going 25 for 58 (43.1%) from 3 during the first 10 games, Ahrens has made four in his past four games. As Ohio State has gone 2-2 against Nebraska, Indiana, Northwestern and Wisconsin, Ahrens has gone 4 for 20 (20.0%) from deep and is now 29-for-78 (37.2%) for the season.
For his career, Ahrens is a 40.2% 3-point shooter, the fifth-highest mark in program history. Pedon said that since the layoff a number of Ahrens’ misses have been dead-on but have hit the front of the rim. Pedon also said the coaches have worked with Ahrens on shot discipline, pointing out that his percentages increase significantly when he’s closer to the 3-point line compared to when he’s taking deeper attempts.
“We’ve maybe got to find some ways to free him up,” coach Chris Holtmann said after the Wisconsin loss. “I do still think he was getting his legs back these first couple games. I don’t worry about him, though. He’ll bounce back. He’ll find openings and find opportunities.”
How teams are defending Justin Ahrens
It's also true that teams are making concerted efforts to take Ahrens away. At Wisconsin, fifth-year senior Brad Davison shadowed him throughout the game, denying him opportunities off of ball screens and giving him little space to work with. That will remain the norm as the Buckeyes work their way through a Big Ten that has seen him shoot 42.1% (72 for 172) from 3 through his first three seasons.
“Teams know we like to make 3s,” sophomore center Zed Key said. “Justin Ahrens, they don’t leave his body at all.”
As a team, the Buckeyes went 3 for 19 (15.8%) from 3 in the Wisconsin loss. It was their poorest performance since going 4 for 26 (15.4%) in a 68-50 loss at Northwestern on March 6, 2019. Ahrens missed his first three before hitting his final attempt, but his struggles were shared across the board. Jamari Wheeler lamented his own performance after missing all five of his 3-point attempts.
Ahrens’ most notable contributions come from his shooting. His layup at Wisconsin was his first field goal from inside the arc this season and only the 14th of his career. He’s increased his scoring average each season and played his way into the starting lineup this season while being praised by the coaching staff for his improved defensive abilities and high basketball IQ. This season, he has the best individual plus-minus on the team at plus-96, and he’s had the best single-game mark a team-high four times.
How Justin Ahrens can bounce back for the Ohio State Buckeyes
He’ll have opportunities to get back on track during the coming week. Ohio State’s next three opponents (Penn State, IUPUI and Nebraska) are ranked Nos. 214, 212 and 288, respectively, in 3-point field-goal percentage defense.
“Great shooters have short memories,” Pedon said. “He’s got a proven track record. We’ve got a lot of confidence in Justin and how he’ll respond to a couple games where he’s maybe not shooting as well as he’s accustomed to.”