Justice Sueing adapting to physicality of Big Ten as Ohio State resumes league play

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State forward Justice Sueing is at his best when driving to the basket, as he does against UMass Lowell on Nov. 29.

Justice Sueing played 68 Division I college basketball games without encountering a Big Ten opponent.

The streak ended last Wednesday, when the transfer forward from Cal and his Ohio State teammates headed to Purdue for their conference opener. Five games into his first season of availability for the Buckeyes, Sueing was averaging 14.0 points per game but coming off a season-low nine-point performance in a physical, six-point win against Cleveland State three days prior.

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

Against the Boilermakers, Sueing would lead Ohio State with 14 points. It would take him 11 shots to get there, as without starting forward E.J. Liddell the Buckeyes struggled to adjust to the physicality of the Boilermakers and suffered their first loss of the season, 67-60.

Last year, Sueing watched Big Ten play up close while sitting out to satisfy NCAA transfer rules. Now, he has a taste.

“I’ll take away just how hard you have to play in this league,” he told The Dispatch. “Nothing’s given in this league. Winning is hard in this league. The biggest thing I would say (I took away) is the physicality of this league.”

It’s a sign of what’s to come for Sueing, a player the Buckeyes are counting on to be a leading contributor this season. Through two seasons at Cal, Sueing averaged 14.1 points and 5.7 rebounds on teams that posted a combined record of 16-47 without a single postseason victory.

In summary, he was the best player on a bad team. Now, he enters No. 23 Ohio State’s Wednesday home game against No. 11 Rutgers third on the team in scoring (12.9 points per game), tops on the team in free-throw rate (measuring how often a player gets to the line relative to how often he attempts to score) and a critical component in coach Chris Holtmann’s rotation.

How well he is able to continue to adapt to the physical style of play associated with the Big Ten will go a long way toward determining what kind of success the Buckeyes will have this season.

“He’s got to be stronger with the ball,” Holtmann said. “He’s got to continue to attack. He’s got to play with more force. Defensively, he’s got to continue to improve.”

In his past two games, Sueing has scored a total of 20 points and shot 43.8 percent from the floor. And after averaging 5.2 free throw attempts during the first five games, he took a total of six in the loss the Purdue and Saturday’s win against UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic at Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

Purdue and forward Mason Gillis provided the first of what will be many physical tests in the Big Ten for Ohio State's Justice Sueing.

The game against the Bruins was an outlier for his career performances against UCLA. In four games while at Cal, all losses, Sueing averaged 19.8 points and 7.8 rebounds while shooting 51.0% (26 for 51). In the win, Sueing scored six points – his lowest total since he had four in a Dec. 5, 2018, home loss to San Francisco.

It’s clear that teams are adjusting to Sueing’s style of play. On his weekly radio show, Holtmann said Monday that Purdue was sagging off Musa Jallow and Kyle Young on the perimeter to cut off Sueing’s attempts to drive to the rim.

It’s on him to adapt.

“Teams are definitely going to start to scout my driving,” he said after the Purdue game. “I know I saw a lot of that tonight, especially in the second half but all that is is just some adjustments. There’s other ways I can impact the game as well, whether that’s rebounding or finding my teammates when they do pack it inside.”

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No. 23 Ohio State vs. No. 11 Rutgers

When: 4:30 p.m. Wednesday 

TV: Big Ten Network

Radio: WBNS-FM/AM (97.1/1460)