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Columbus, Ohio — Less than two weeks ago, Ohio State freshman Justin Ahrens didn’t even play in a home loss to lowly Illinois.

Had Ahrens not played against Iowa on Tuesday night, the Buckeyes would not have pulled off a potentially season-changing win.

Ahrens had a career-high 29 points and hit 6 of 10 3-pointers as Ohio State rolled to a 90-70 victory over No. 22 Iowa.

“I hadn’t played all year, so they probably didn’t have the scouting report,” Ahrens said. “I’m going to keep working and doing what I can do to help this team win.”

Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann noticed Ahrens was “invested” on the bench during the team’s Feb. 20 win over Northwestern. He then started Ahrens in the team’s loss at No. 24 Maryland on Saturday.

Ahrens had nine points against the Terrapins and came into the game against Iowa with 38 points scored in 18 appearances. But he ended up hitting 7 of 11 shots from the floor and all nine of his free throws to help the Buckeyes bag their first win over a ranked opponent in five tries this season.

“I just tried to bring some energy to our team,” Ahrens said. “I think there is something special about our group.”

Ohio State (18-10, 8-9 Big Ten), fighting to improve its NCAA Tournament chances, outscored Iowa 54-37 in the second half. The Buckeyes hit 58 percent of their shots from the floor, 53 percent of their 3s (8 of 15) and 94 percent of their free throws (16 of 17) after halftime.

“It was a fun night for our guys,” Holtmann said. “I love seeing our guys play with that level of joy and happiness. We have tremendous respect for Iowa and how hard they are to stop. We felt like if we couldn’t score the ball tonight it would be hard for us to win.”

Kaleb Wesson chipped in 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Buckeyes, Keyshawn Woods scored 13, Andre Wesson had 11 and Duane Washington Jr. scored 10.

“Give them some credit,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “They obviously shot the ball pretty well. We didn’t rebound very well. It’s hard to go on the road and have that happen.”

Ahrens scored nine points in a span of 1:08 during a larger 12-2 Ohio State run that put the Buckeyes up 74-56 with 8:42 left in the game.

“Man, it was just great,” Kaleb Wesson said of Ahrens’ breakout performance. “You see him putting up extra shots after every practice. You see it pay off. It’s great to see that kind of stuff.”

Ahrens’ 29-point game is tied for the sixth most by a freshman in Ohio State history, while his six made 3s are tied for the most by a Buckeyes freshman.

Joe Wieskamp had 17 points to lead Iowa (21-7, 10-7), and Tyler Cook added 12 points.

The first half was played fairly evenly with seven ties and three lead changes. OSU’s C.J. Jackson splashed a 3-pointer in the final minute to stake his team to a 36-33 halftime advantage.

There were swings each way as Iowa’s Jordan Bohannon produced four points on a possession after OSU’s Holtmann was assessed a technical foul. Ahrens also had a four-point play as Iowa’s Nicholas Baer was hit with a flagrant foul for grabbing him on a drive attempt.

Tempers flared in the second half as McCaffery and his son, Iowa freshman Connor McCaffery, were hit with technical fouls.

More Big Ten

(At) Indiana 75, No. 19 Wisconsin 73, 2OT: Romeo Langford made the go-ahead layup with under a second to go in the second overtime. Langford, a freshman guard, had 22 points and seven rebounds. Justin Smith had 12 points and six rebounds, and Rob Phinisee and Alijami Durham scored 11 points each for the Hoosiers (14-14, 5-12 Big Ten), who ended a five-game skid.

Ethan Happ had 23 points and 11 rebounds, Khalil Iverson had 15 points, and D’Mitrik Trice scored 12 for the Badgers (19-9, 11-6), who had won their five previous games against Indiana and came into Bloomington as 2½-point favorites.

Top 25

(At) No. 20 Virginia Tech 77, No. 3 Duke 72: Ty Outlaw hit a tie-breaking 3-pointer with 88 seconds left as Virginia Tech won while Blue Devils star freshman Zion Williamson sat out his second straight game because of a sprained right knee.

Kelly Blackshear Jr. had 23 points and 10 rebounds, and Ahmed Hill scored 17 for Virginia Tech (22-6, 11-5 Atlantic Coast Conference), which beat Duke at Cassell Coliseum for the third straight game. The Blue Devils (24-4, 12-3) had been the only team in the country yet to lose on the road this season, but Duke hasn’t won at Virginia Tech since Feb. 25, 2015.

RJ Barrett scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Blue Devils from dropping out of a first-place tie with No. 2 Virginia Tech and No. 5 North Carolina in the ACC.

(At) No. 4 Kentucky 70, Arkansas 66: Tyler Herro had career highs of five 3-pointers and 29 points, including two free throws with five seconds remaining, and Kentucky rallied from a 15-point deficit. Out of sorts for 22 minutes, the Wildcats (24-4, 13-2 Southeastern Conference) quickly regrouped behind Herro, who finished 5 of 6 from behind the arc and 9 of 10 overall. His long-range baskets 43 seconds apart sparked an 18-3 run over 7:43, and the freshman guard capped the spurt with another 3 for a 54-51 lead.

Arkansas (14-14, 5-10) stayed within a couple of possessions over the final seven minutes but couldn’t break through. Kentucky got clutch free throws in the last 26 seconds from PJ Washington, Herro and Hagans, who made two with 1.3 seconds left to seal the Wildcats’ fourth consecutive victory.

(At) No. 5 North Carolina 93, Syracuse 85: Coby White scored a career-high 34 points and fifth-ranked North Carolina pulled away late. Cameron Johnson added 16 points for the Tar Heels (23-5, 13-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who have won 11 of 12 games and own their highest AP Top 25 ranking of the season.

UNC led by three with 7:49 left before coming up with a 7-0 burst to push the margin to 83-73, though the Tar Heels couldn’t land a finishing blow and had to fight to protect their lead into the final minute.

The Tar Heels shot just 40 percent but made 34 of 37 free throws (92 percent) while dominating the glass and finishing with 18 offensive rebounds.

Tyus Battle scored 23 of his 29 points after halftime for the Orange (18-10, 9-6), who shot 48 percent and made 13 of 23 3-pointers.

(At) No. 13 LSU 66, Texas A&M 55: Naz Reid bounced back from his least productive game this season by scoring 18 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Freshman Javonte Smart turned in a second straight productive start in place of ailing point guard Tremont Waters, scoring 17 for the Tigers (23-5, 13-2 Southeastern Conference), who led by double digits most of the way en route to their 16th victory in 18 games.

Wendell Mitchell scored 14 and Christian Mekowulu had 11 for the Aggies (12-15, 5-10), who seemed to be hitting their stride recently, having won four of five when then they arrived in Baton Rouge to take on a team sharing first place in the SEC.

(At) No. 21 Buffalo 77, Akron 64: CJ Massinburg had 23 points and 10 rebounds to rally No. 21 Buffalo for its 25th straight home win.

Nick Perkins scored 25 points, and the Bulls (25-3, 13-2 Mid-American Conference) outscored the Zips, 14-2, over the final four minutes in a game that featured 12 lead changes. Buffalo has won six straight overall, and its home winning streak is the second longest in the nation behind No. 8 Houston, which has won 33 consecutive.

State men

Central Michigan 77, (at) Eastern Michigan 66: Kevin McKay had 23 points and 10 rebounds and David DiLeo had 18 points for Central Michigan (20-8, 9-6 Mid-American Conference), which won its fourth straight game. Dallas Morgan added 12 points. Larry Austin Jr. had nine points, 10 assists and nine rebounds for the visitors.

Paul Jackson had 19 points for the Eagles (13-15, 7-8). James Thompson IV added 12 points and 12 rebounds. Elijah Minnie had 11 points.

The Chippewas improve to 2-0 against the Eagles this season. Central Michigan defeated Eastern Michigan 86-82 on Jan. 29. Central Michigan takes on Toledo at home on Saturday. Eastern Michigan takes on Northern Illinois on the road on Saturday.

(At) Northern Illinois 70, Western Michigan 65: Levi Bradley registered 16 points and Noah McCarty had 12 points and nine rebounds for Northern Illinois (13-15, 6-9 Mid-American Conference), which broke its six-game losing streak. Rod Henry-Hayes added 12 points. Dante Thorpe had 11 points for the hosts.

Eugene German, the Huskies’ leading scorer entering the matchup at 20 points per game, had only seven points (3 of 12).

Seth Dugan had 19 points and 11 rebounds for the Broncos (8-20, 2-13). Kawanise Wilkins added 14 points. Patrick Emilien had nine rebounds.

Michael Flowers, whose 16 points per game entering the contest led the Broncos, had only eight points on 2-of-12 shooting.

The Huskies evened the season series against the Broncos with the win. Western Michigan defeated Northern Illinois 76-74 on Feb. 12. Northern Illinois takes on Eastern Michigan at home on Saturday. Western Michigan plays Ball St. at home on Saturday.

Detroit News staff contributed.

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