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Justice Sueing makes sure Ohio State men's basketball debut worth the wait

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Junior forward Justice Sueing made his Ohio State debut in a season-opening win over Illinois State. Sueing had 19 points, eight rebounds and three steals in 20 minutes.

Justice Sueing wasted very little time making up for a lost season.

A total of 623 days had passed since Sueing suited up for the University of California for the final time. Since a loss to Colorado in the Pac-12 men's basketball tournament on March 13, 2019, Sueing had transferred to Ohio State, undergone surgery on an injured foot and wondered whether a 2020-21 season would take place amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

More:Fully healthy, Justice Sueing ready to be impact player for Ohio State men's basketball

Then, 12 minutes into his Buckeyes debut, a 94-67 Wednesday afternoon win against Illinois State inside a Value City Arena devoid of fans, Sueing had already scored 12 points – and the best was yet to come.

With the game already well in hand early in the second half, Sueing was at the top of the circle when sophomore teammate E.J. Liddell picked up his dribble on the left block. Spying an opportunity, Sueing charged down the heart of the lane, took a pass from Liddell and threw down a two-handed dunk. It gave the Buckeyes a 57-32 lead with 15 minutes to play, but Liddell and Sueing weren’t done.

One possession later, they teamed up again. This time, the result was a right-handed slam from Sueing, a personal highlight for a debut in which he scored a game-high 19 points.

“It’s great to be out here with my guys,” Sueing said. “I can’t wait to see what we can do this year.”

The fourth-year junior and his teammates will get their next chance to find out Sunday as they host UMass-Lowell at noon at the Covelli Center. The Big Ten Network will televise the game.

Sueing’s decision to come to Ohio State rested largely in the native Hawaiian’s desire to challenge himself and step outside his comfort zone. That meant adapting to a new climate, a new time zone and a different style of play.

It’s obvious that the level of competition will increase once the Buckeyes begin Big Ten play. The Redbirds had missed two weeks of preseason practice due to COVID-19 protocols, coach Dan Muller said after the game, and a team with no seniors looked the part in falling behind 22-0 to open the game.

Sueing hit a three-pointer, tied for the team lead with eight rebounds and had three steals in only 20 minutes.

As far as first impressions go, this one matched what coach Chris Holtmann said he had seen during the preseason.

“He just has a variety of ways in which he can attack you, and he’s pretty powerful,” Holtmann said. “And you combine his size with his ball skills and his athleticism and he’s a good player. He’s that versatile wing-forward that is really valuable in today’s game.”

The debut was almost record-breaking. Sueing hit his first eight shots from the floor before, with 11:23 to play, he fought his way to the left block but was caught too far under the rim. His left-handed layup attempt banged off the bottom of the goal, denying him the chance to be the seventh player in Ohio State history to be perfect while attempting at least eight shots in a game.

His 19 points were the most for an Ohio State player making his debut since Jared Sullinger hit that number as a freshman in a 102-61 win against North Carolina A&T in the 2010-11 season opener.

“I think it sets a good tone to show how good we can be,” Sueing said. “I feel like we’re just scratching the surface with this one. Obviously, it’s going to pick up as the season continues. I’m just looking forward to continuing to work with my guys.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy