Justice Sueing, No. 23 Ohio State blow past Illinois State in basketball season opener
The second half was about to begin and Zed Key couldn’t wait.
The Ohio State men's basketball team held a 17-point lead against Illinois State in a game it had never trailed when the freshman took to the court alone in a Value City Arena devoid of fans. He reached the court, turned and saw junior Justin Ahrens beckoning him to the rest of the roster waiting to run out together.
A few bumps were to be expected. In the first game in 261 days, No. 23 Ohio State opened the 2020-21 season with a 94-67 win against Illinois State.
The Buckeyes looked intent on making up for lost time in a hurry. Sophomore E.J. Liddell won the opening tip and finished the possession with a dunk for the first points of the season, and two possessions later he scored while being fouled on a pass from Kyle Young for a three-point play.
Six possessions in, Ohio State had a 10-0 lead and Illinois State called its first timeout to try to stop the bleeding. The season-opening run would stretch to 22 points, capped by a three-pointer from freshman Gene Brown III at 14:02.
The Redbirds missed their first 10 field goal attempts and their first free throw but finally dented the scoreboard on a Dedric Boyd free throw with 13:36 left in the first half. Illinois State would get its first basket on its next possession, but Ohio State would stretch its lead as high as 24 points during the half on multiple occasions. Ultimately, the lead would grow as high as 37 points.
Justice Sueing was the star. In his Ohio State debut, the California transfer hit his first eight shots, finishing multiple drives with dunks, and had a game-high 19 points. It was the most points scored by an Ohio State player making his team debut since freshman Jared Sullinger had 19 in a season-opening win against North Carolina A&T on Nov. 12, 2010.
Liddell finished with 16 points and Key had 12.
Without fans in the stands, minimal crowd noise was pumped into Value City Arena while the Ohio State managers and bench players provided what energy they could. All coaches for both sides wore masks, and the bench area featured individual chairs several feet apart. A black curtain covered the upper bowl of the arena.
Two cardboard cutouts were scattered around the arena. Legendary football coach Woody Hayes was behind the west basket, while longtime local basketball coach Henry “Coach Bob” Smith, who passed away this fall, was in his customary seat directly behind the Ohio State bench area.
Both teams were in their respective locker rooms for the playing of the national anthem, and the Buckeyes took the court from the southeast corner of the arena rather than the northeast.
Forward Seth Towns arrived late to the game because, according to a team spokeswoman, he was involved in a minor car accident prior to the game. All parties are safe, the spokeswoman said.
Junior Musa Jallow saw his first action since missing all of last season with an ankle injury.
Both Key and Brown saw first-half minutes to make their Ohio State debuts alongside Bucknell transfer Jimmy Sotos and Sueing.
Every available Ohio State player, including walk-on Harrison Hookfin and new walk-on Jansen Davison, saw action.