In point guard debut, Ohio State's Justice Sueing shines in win against Northwestern
The contingency plan was first worked on months ago.
When Abel Porter collapsed at a workout and began medical testing that would ultimate led to the discovery of a career-ending heart condition, Ohio State coach men's basketball coach Chris Holtmann began to toy with the concept of moving Justice Sueing to point guard.
You know, just in case.
But the likelihood of the 6-foot-7 forward actually running the point for the Buckeyes seemed remote as they landed a waiver for immediate eligibility for Bucknell transfer Jimmy Sotos and added freshman Meechie Johnson Jr. in mid-December to help provide depth behind CJ Walker, a dependable fifth-year senior.
Then Walker tore ligaments in his right hand and, in his first game as the starter, Sotos suffered a right shoulder injury that left both of them unable to participate in Wednesday’s home game against Northwestern.
The duo, with a combined 222 Division I games between them, instead saw the far-flung contingency plan put into action when Sueing started at point guard against the Wildcats.
It marked the first career game at any level for the California transfer at point guard, and the redshirt junior would finish with 13 points and seven rebounds as the No. 21 Buckeyes held off Northwestern in an 81-71 win at Value City Arena.
“With me being next up, running the PG, I had to learn it pretty quick and pretty fast,” Sueing said. “My coaches and team have a lot of confidence in me to trust my versatility on the floor. Once I got the hang of it, they let me play and play through the game. It wasn’t too much. I’ve been familiar with the plays.”
Sueing had started the first 12 games of the season at small forward and enjoyed some mixed success. Ohio State’s third-leading scorer at 10.7 points per game, that number was down to 8.7 in Big Ten games as, after two years in the Pac-12, Sueing was dealing with high-level defenses paying him all kinds of attention.
It bottomed out when Sueing didn’t connect on a single field goal in the win against No. 15 Rutgers on Dec. 23, the first time he’d been held without a basket in 57 games. The coaches continued to work with him on tightening his dribble and focusing on his ball-handling, two aspects that were needed at a high level against the Wildcats.
“He’s a little bit unsung in all of this (victory talk) because we forced him into the point guard position,” Holtmann said after the win. “We’ve talked about seeing Justice make real strides forward in these last couple games. I think he’s being a little more committed to being a complete player.”
In Big Ten play, Sueing was second on the team with 10 offensive rebounds. As the point, he had to watch for transition opportunities and focused instead on the defensive glass. All seven of his rebounds were on the defensive end, his second-highest mark of the year.
“That’s the only big adjustment I felt like I had to make,” Sueing said of the rebounding focus. “Everything else I think was pretty natural in the flow of the game. The main thing is making sure I remember the plays and getting everyone involved, along with the boards.”
Sueing’s shift to point guard opened a starting spot for junior Justin Ahrens, who finished with 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting from three-point range. When Northwestern cut Ohio State's lead to 67-66 with four minutes to play, it was Ahrens who connected on a three on the Buckeyes' next possession to start a game-sealing 12-0 run.
The basket came on an assist from Sueing, his only one of the game, when the Wildcats cut off his drive attempt.
“Great decision by Justice,” Holtmann said. “They took away our ability to get downhill but that’s why we put Justin ball-side so that he would potentially have some space on the drive there and the young man hit the biggest shot of his career so far.”