“Justin Ahrens is the best shooter I’ve ever seen.”
Ahrens had just canned his third triple of the game, giving him nine points on 3-of-6 shooting. All of his shots that game came from beyond the arc, which is something we’ve come to expect from Ohio State’s blossoming three-point sniper. Of his 80 shot attempts this season, all but two of them have come from three-point land. He’s knocked down 39 of those 78 shots, good for a 50% shooting percentage from downtown. That’s the highest mark in the Big Ten Conference for players with at least 50 attempts — tying Iowa’s CJ Fredrick, who the Buckeyes will see this Thursday when they travel to Iowa City.
Ahrens told the media that within the Ohio State program there’s a phrase they use often: “Do what you do at a high level.” If you do something at a high level, keep doing that. Chris Holtmann has done a great job this season at finding the specific things his players do well and helping showcase them on the biggest stage. Ahrens shooting is a prime example. While other areas of his game still need improvement, his shooting prowess has drowned out some of his other shortcomings. Ohio State does an exceptional job getting Ahrens in catch and shoot positions, like he’s shooting around at practice or in his driveway back home.
“Do what you do at a high level” https://t.co/jR9VzBTwyY— Justin Ahrens (@ahrensjustin12) January 31, 2021
I try not to be a prisoner of the moment when it comes to sports (or anything, really), but that message got me thinking. Ahrens looks so comfortable and confident when he’s shooting, and as soon as he releases you just have this feeling that the ball is being pulled to the basket by some imaginary force. Like there are hands guiding the ball into the net, Angels in the Outfield-style.
I can name a bunch of players who have shot like that against Ohio State, because for some reason there’s always one guy on every team who has a career day against the Buckeyes. But I can’t recall the last Buckeye whose shot was quite as smooth as Ahrens’ or who could turn it on as quickly as he does. Maybe it’s just his being left-handed that adds to the aura of his shot in particular.
But do the optics alone put Ahrens in the company of the best shooters in Ohio State history? While he’s on pace to have one of the better seasons in Ohio State history from beyond the arc, his overall numbers (volume) simply do not stack up to some of the great Buckeye sharpshooters.
Ahrens has taken 78 three-point attempts through 18 games thus far. That’s 4.3 attempts per game. The Buckeyes have eight games remaining on their B1G schedule, and then they’ll play in the B1G tournament and (assumedly) the NCAA Tournament. For shits and giggles, let’s say the Buckeyes secure a top-four seed in the conference tournament and earn the double-bye. If that happens, they would need to win two games to get to the championship game, and three to win the whole thing. Again, for shits and giggles, let’s say Ohio State makes it to the B1G championship. That’s an extra three games (11 so far, if you’re keeping count at home).
And then comes the NCAA Tournament. Ohio State’s tournament “stock” has fluctuated this year, but right now most folks have them making it to the Elite Eight/Sweet 16 (for the first time since 2013). If Ohio State made the Sweet 16, that would mean they played three games in the tournament. If they make it to the Elite Eight, it would be four. The point of adding this all up is just to show that Justin Ahrens has somewhere around 15 games remaining this season.
If Ahrens continues to shoot roughly 4.3 three-point attempts per game over the final 15 games and keeps knocking them down at exactly 50%, he would end the season hitting 71-of-142 total three-pointers. How does that stack up with the best of the best? Well, the 10th-best 3-point shooting season in Ohio State history belongs to Deshaun Thomas, who hit 72 triples in 37 games during the 2012-2013 season, but only knocked them down at a 34.4% clip. So, Ahrens’ 71 made threes wouldn’t even put him in the top-10 for Ohio State’s record books. He would finish 11th in that category.
However, if we ignore volume and simply look at percentages, Ahrens finds himself on the doorstep of having the best shooting season in Ohio State history. If he continues at his current pace of 50%, he would finish the year with the second-best three-point percentage of any Buckeye in a single season. Ohio State legend Jon Diebler capped off his career in Columbus by knocking down the long ball at a toasty clip of 50.2% during the 2010-2011 season, just a hare above Ahrens’ current mark of 50%. However, Diebler took a whopping 227 three-point attempts that season, nearly 100 more than Ahrens is on pace for this season. So while the pace Ahrens is on this season is nothing to scoff at, it really goes to show how out of this world Jon Diebler was during his four-year stretch.
So Ahrens isn’t quite as good as Diebler, but is anyone? Will anyone ever be? I think Ahrens deserves to be in the conversation for one of the greatest pure shooters to don a Buckeye uniform. But who else has torched the rim while wearing the Scarlet and Gray? I decided to compile a short list of some of the greatest to ever let it fly while playing for the Buckeyes, including the aforementioned Diebler and Ahrens.
Reminder: this piece is looking specifically at 3-point shooting, not overall scoring ability.
Years active: 2008-2012
Career 3PT%: 38.5%
Best 3PT season: 44.2% (2010-2011)
Most 3PT season: 62-173 (2011-2012)
William Buford had the smoothest shooting stroke of any Buckeye ever, as far as I’m concerned. He was an above-average three-point shooter who would pull up from anywhere on the floor or slash to basket if the moment called for it. He shot 44.2% from downtown during the 2010-2011 season, which is the second-highest clip for a Buckeye in a single season behind Diebler’s 50.2% that same season. Yeah, no wonder that team won the Big Ten regular season title and the Big Ten Tournament.
Years active: 2018-
Career 3PT%: 44%
Best 3PT season: 50% (2020-2021, ongoing)
Most 3PT season: 39-78 (2020-2021, ongoing)
Much has already been said about Ahrens in the beginning of this piece, but based purely off the percentages and how many more games he has to play (the remainder of this season plus the next two years, if he chooses), Ahrens is going to end up setting at least a few Ohio State three-point records and maybe even a Big Ten record or two. His two-point range (if we can call it that) may expand in the years to come, but his bread and butter will always be lighting it up from beyond the arc.
While still not a great defender, he’s improved his defense and rebounding enough that Chris Holtmann trusts him to be on the floor for 20+ minutes per game. This, in turn, will give Ahrens more shooting opportunities if he isn’t chained to the bench as a defensive liability.
Years active: 1991-1995
Career 3PT%: 44.6%
Best 3PT season: 50% (1993-1994)
Most 3PT season: 78-178 (1994-1995)
Doug Etzler had one of the oddest careers in Ohio State basketball history. During his freshman through junior seasons from 1991-1994 he averaged 2.3 points per game and knocked down 29-of-62 three-point tries, good for 46.7%. Solid, but definitely a small sample size due to his only playing 11 minutes per game.
Then, during his senior season, he broke out and scored 16.3 points per game while shooting 43.8% from beyond the arc and logging over 35 minutes per game. Etzler was the best player on a horrid Ohio State team that went 6-22, including 2-16 in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes scored just 69 points per game, which — contrary to popular belief — is not nice. Etzler finished his college career with a 44.6% mark from three-point land, which to this day is still the best in Ohio State history.
Additionally, his nephew Kalen Etlzer has committed to Ohio State as well and is part of the Buckeyes’ 2021 recruiting class.
Years active: 2004-2008
Career 3PT%: 37.2%
Best 3PT season: 41.4% (2005-2006)
Most 3PT season: 104-271 (2007-2008)
Raised in Lima, OH, Butler’s 242 career three-pointers are the most of any Ohio State player not named Jon. His 37.2% three-point percentage is the tenth-best in the history of Ohio State basketball, and his 10.1 points per game and 41.4% mark from downtown helped lead the 2005-2006 Ohio State Buckeyes to a Big Ten Championship.
Butler’s production dipped during his junior season (2006-2007) with the arrival of the super-freshman trio of Greg Oden, Mike Conley, and Daequan Cook, but he still chipped in 8.5 points per game off the bench as the Buckeyes made it all the way to the national championship game. His 579 career assists were the most in program history when he left Ohio State in 2008, but that record was broken by Aaron Craft five years later.
Years active: 2007-2011
Career 3PT%: 41.6%
Best 3PT season: 50.2% (2010-2011)
Most 3PT season: 116-276 (2009-2010)
Jon Diebler is without question the best shooter in Ohio State history. He shot better than 41% from distance during his sophomore, junior, and senior years (2008-2011). 81% of his shot attempts in college were of the three-point variety, and he canned 374 of them during his four seasons in Columbus — the most of any Buckeye ever. Jamar Butler’s 242 three-point makes slots him into a very distant second. I think it’s fair to say that Diebler’s record will never be touched, even as basketball evolves into a more perimeter-oriented game.
Diebler’s 50.2% mark is still the highest single-season three-point percentage of any Buckeye ever, but he also claims the eighth-best single season shooting percentage in Ohio State history (42% in 2009-2010) and 10th-best as well (41.6% in 2008-2009).
Simply put: there will never be another Jon Diebler.