Justin Ahrens Would Like Another Bottle of Iowa Lightning

Bruce Hooley

Ohio State sophomore Justin Ahrens is over the back injury that kept him from contributing the instant offense he's capable of providing.

Now he just needs to shake the severe case of immodesty that he'll carry into a 7 p.m. tip Thursday at Iowa.

Ahrens, OSU's hottest three-point shooter, denies he has the green light to launch whenever he wants.

"Not necessarily," Ahrens said. "My job out there is to take good looks, keep the ball moving, keep it popping, keep the defense on their heels. I play off other guys. That's what I do. They create shots for me. I don't create shots for myself."

He might want to check with Buckeyes' head coach Chris Holtmann on that.

"He's got the green light whenever he's open," Holtmann said.

It's doubtful Iowa will give Ahrens much room, given the way he's been shooting it lately and how he ruined the Hawkeyes' trip to Columbus last February.

Despite not scoring in double figures in any previous game his freshman year, Ahrens rewarded Holtmann for starting him against Iowa by scoring 29 points on 7-of-11 shooting, including 6-of-10 from distance and 9-of-9 on free throws.

That resulted in a 90-70 win over the then-No. 22 Hawkeyes, breaking a skid of three losses in four games for the Buckeyes, who proceeded to lose their next three.

Without Ahrens' out-of-the-blue explosion, OSU wouldn't likely have received an NCAA Tournament berth last season.

Now, the Buckeyes (17-8, 7-7) have solidified their standing with five wins in six games and could use a road win over the No. 20 Hawkeyes (18-8, 9-6) to polish their NCAA resume.

Another hot night from Ahrens would certainly help.

He's shot 50% or better from 3-point range during each of OSU's five wins in its last six games.

Ahrens has shot 12-of-18 from beyond the arc over that span.

He didn't try a triple in the loss at Wisconsin.

"I'm happy with my role and what I do," Ahrens said. "I try to do the best I can at what I do. A lot of it is shooting. I've been shooting it pretty well. Coach tells me to be confident when I get in, if I get a good look to take it. He's going to be mad at me if I don't. He likes the confidence I've been playing with lately."

Holtmann credits that to Ahrens recovery from a summer back injury that slowed his progress until recently.

"I feel great," Ahrens said. "Honestly, the first two months of the season, three months of the season, I just wasn't me. I was out on the court in practice, I felt like I was just out there running around. I didn't have my strength. My back was still bugging me.

"It was hard to get confident when you're playing through pain. Obviously, with the injury I had, you have to play through it. Most definitely, I feel a lot better now. It's the best I've ever felt."

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