When did Ohio State's Justice Sueing suffer his groin injury? Here's the timeline
Ohio State’s 2021-22 fortunes took a new battering Monday night as the status of key forward and team captain Justice Sueing become cloudier.
Although the No. 19 Buckeyes blasted visiting Bowling Green in an 89-58 win at Value City Arena, the occasion was tempered by the news that Sueing had spent the day getting an injury evaluated by a specialist in Cleveland and that the timetable for his return is unknown.
A versatile, physical player who can slash from the wing and draw fouls, distribute the ball and run the offense, Sueing’s absence cast a clear pall over the postgame interview session with Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann.
“No real word on him right now other than he had to be evaluated,” Holtmann said. “He was not able to play. I did not feel that he was going to be able to play, so we sent him to a specialist in Cleveland. Productive meeting, but what plan moving forward we’re going to have and if he’s going to play Thursday (at Xavier), all those questions kind of remain open-ended.”
Sueing has been dealing with the injury, which has not been fully disclosed, since at least late February. That’s a stretch of nearly nine months during which progress has been sporadic, culminating with Monday’s consultation with a specialist in Cleveland. Had Sueing not been able to make that appointment, he wouldn’t have been able to see the doctor until December, Holtmann said on the official Ohio State pregame radio show.
Thursday afternoon, hours before the Buckeyes were set to play at Xavier, Ohio State announced that Sueing would miss an "extended period" with an abdominal injury. No further details were given, but in a statement Holtmann said he expected Sueing to return this season.
In the meantime, Sueing will rehab the injury. Here’s a look at what we know about the injury and what Sueing and Holtmann have said about it along the way.
Riding a three-game losing streak, No. 7 Ohio State closed out the regular season with a 73-68 home defeat to No. 4 Illinois. Sueing started, played 34:17 and finished tied for second in scoring with 15 points, adding eight rebounds and going 6 for 7 from the line before fouling out.
Four days later, after Ohio State fended off Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis, Holtmann mentioned that Sueing had undergone a procedure on his right groin after dealing with an injury “during recent weeks.” The procedure sidelined him until the day before the March 11 game against the Golden Gophers, when he was able to return for only some light work in practice.
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In the win, Sueing tied for the team high with 16 points and played 29:36, pulling down seven rebounds, drawing seven fouls and going 7 for 11 from the free-throw line.
“I’ve been having some nagging injuries,” Sueing said. “My medical staff made sure I get my rehab in so I’m able to come out here and perform. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.”
It was the only time Sueing would speak to reporters during the postseason, which had limited virtual media availabilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ohio State advanced to the Big Ten tournament title game before falling to Illinois, 91-88, in overtime. Sueing averaged 33.5 minutes per game while playing four times in four days and saw his role and importance both grow when Kyle Young was lost during the second game to a concussion that would prematurely end his season.
One day after the Illinois loss, Holtmann held his weekly radio show and addressed Sueing while offering an accurate prediction as to what might be looming.
“He really competed this week,” Holtmann said. “He was a major reason for us making our run and certainly put us in position to win it. Physical, aggressive, good on the glass. He’s got to be a good defensive presence for us, or else we’ll have a quick exit in this tournament.”
Holtmann’s fears were realized when No. 15 seed Oral Roberts bounced No. 2-seed Ohio State in a first-round NCAA Tournament game, 75-72, in overtime. Sueing played 34 minutes in the loss but didn’t look much like himself. He watched the final 2:05 of overtime from the bench with a hot towel on his groin and finished with only seven points and two rebounds. Perhaps most telling, Sueing drew just one foul.
“Justice, I think has been battling his injury and I give him a lot of credit,” Holtmann said after the game. “He’s really been battling him well. You’d have to ask him if it bothered him today. I didn’t think he moved like he typically moved last week, but that might’ve been a by-product. There’s no question he’s battled at an incredible rate with his groin injury. Today he looked a little hobbled.”
Fast-forward a couple of months and, after a quiet offseason, Sueing and the rest of his teammates reported to the practice gym at Value City Arena for media day. Seated at tables scattered around the room, Sueing was asked about his health and what it was like dealing with the groin injury last season.
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It was here that Sueing indicated that the injury was not entirely in the past.
“Shoot, I needed a couple months of break to let it settle in,” he said. “It was really just a rest thing. With injuries like that, especially concerning the groin, it’s really just rest. It was tough playing those last couple weeks of the season, just injured really, but I knew it was just a couple more weeks I’d have to get through to help this team so that’s what I was willing to do.
“I had a hot pack on my groin to make sure I kept it warm so it didn’t tighten up on me. It hurt a lot, but it wasn’t anything too crazy I couldn’t handle. I was tough enough to get through it.”
Asked what procedure he had done to the groin, Sueing said, “I didn’t have anything done, per se. it was just a groin injury. I was playing through it.”
The Buckeyes opened practice to reporters for roughly half an hour, where they scrimmaged each other for about 15 minutes and Sueing often looked the best player on the team. He finished at the rim, handled the ball, directed offense and showcased the all-around game that made him a dangerous player last season.
“I think you’ll see Justice Sueing take another step offensively,” Holtmann said. “I think Justice is a guy who you’ll see in those moments more. You could see the ball in his hands as a playmaker, for sure.”
Voted one of four captains on this year’s team, Sueing met with reporters in advance of a Nov. 1 exhibition game against the University of Indianapolis and was asked about his injury.
“I’m doing pretty well,” he said. “That injury took a little bit longer to heal than expected. I give props to my medical staff. They’ve been there trying to get me better as quickly as possible.”
Sueing did not play in the exhibition against the Greyhounds. Holtmann said afterward that he wasn’t physically able to play, and the Buckeyes started to officially refer to it as a “lower body injury.”
After the Indianapolis game, Holtmann said Sueing has “had some really good practices and some good moments, but it’s bothered him a little bit, it’s lingered here a little bit.” The staff asked him if he felt comfortable playing against the Greyhounds, Holtmann said, and Sueing said no. His status for the season opener Nov. 9 against Akron was to be determined.
The day before the game, Holtmann said Sueing’s status would be determined after that day’s practice but that he looked on track to play. Sueing did not start against the Zips, but he came off the bench and looked little like the player he was last season. In 14:30, Sueing went 1 for 7 from the floor and finished with three rebounds, two points and one turnover. One of the nation’s best at getting to the free-throw line, Sueing did not get there once against the Zips. He sat for the final 11:31 and was subbed out after he airballed a 3-pointer with Ohio State’s lead at 44-41.
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“Guys, he’s not the same player right now,” Holtmann said after the game. “He will get there. He’s just not there right now, and it shouldn’t be expected. I’m not going to go into great detail. I think he’ll get there. He’s just not there right now, and it’s not the kid’s fault. He’s trying, but we really need him.
“More than anything, we’re not gonna see the real Justice, I don’t think right away, and it’s probably unfair to just expect that from him. He’s had too many times where he just hasn’t been able to practice like he needs to.”
Liddell reminded reporters after the game that Sueing was spending timeouts during the Big Ten and then NCAA Tournament with a heat pack on his groin in order to stay loose enough to play.
“He took a minute off because after that last game last season he was trying to recover from that injury the whole time,” Liddell said. “Right now he’s still recovering. He’s just got to get back into rhythm, get into the flow and he’ll be back soon.”
The second game of the season was a different story. Sueing looked more comfortable and finished with 10 points on 4 of 6 shooting and four rebounds in 15:52 off the bench in a 10-point win against Niagara.
“I just think in general he just felt a little more relaxed,” Holtmann said. “I thought the pressure bothered him a little bit. His ball handling has still got to get a little tighter, sharper. His skills have to continue to grow, but when you’ve been off as long as he’s been off, your skills aren’t going to be in the same place. I just think in general he showed good aggressiveness, had a couple key deflections, moved well and provided a real lift.”
As the Buckeyes trickled onto the court for warmups, Sueing wasn’t among them. About 80 minutes before tip-off against Bowling Green, Ohio State sent out an availability report stating that Sueing would not be available while having his lower body injury evaluated.
On the official Ohio State pregame radio show, Holtmann said, “He is frustrated. I think he's wondering when he'll feel completely healthy. He's had a whole offseason of rehab. He's seeing a specialist.”
He arrived mid-game and watched the rest of the 89-58 win from the bench in street clothes.