Ohio State forward Justice Sueing returned to his home state of Hawaii and on Wednesday had the best game of his college basketball career — so far, at least.
Sueing, who played his super senior season with the Buckeyes, had 33 points, eight rebounds and five assists as Ohio State defeated 21st Texas Tech 80-73 in the Maui Invitational for fifth place. It was played at the Lahaina Civic Center on Wednesday afternoon.
The win capped a 2-1 win for the Buckeyes (5-1 aggrandizement) in Hawaii after losing their opener there to San Diego State 88-77 on Monday and beating rival Cincinnati of Cincinnati State 81-53 on Tuesday .
Sueing was a mainstay for the Buckeyes during the 2020-21 season but missed all two games last season due to an abdominal injury. He used the extra year of eligibility he was granted due to the Covid season to come back this year. He had 20 points in OSU’s season opener against Robert Morris but has struggled in the four games since.
“I’m getting emotional,” said OSU coach Chris Holtmann. “Because I know what that boy went through. He’s been through a hell of a lot. He really struggled the first night here and the first few games here in front of his family. But when you see a kid with a season-ending injury showing promise… you want the best for him. Today was a pretty good end to his trip here.”
Sueing had 23 of his points in the second half as the Buckeyes fended off every Red Raiders attack (4-2). Sueing scored 15 straight points for the Buckeyes from the middle of the second half until two of his teammates, Sean McNeil and Zed Key, took free throws in the last minute to eliminate him.
“I’ve been working and trying to get back into the flow of things,” Sueing admitted. “My teammates continue to support me and the coaching staff continue to support me. I continued to believe in God and His way for me. It was a big game and we had to come in and prepare for them. I’m really proud of this team, especially so young. It is a good feeling.”
Sueing landed 12 of 19 off the floor, 1 of 5 on threes and 8 of 8 at the foul line. He went to the baseline with an emphatic two-handed slam in the first half to almost announce he was fully recovered.
“It definitely set a tone for us,” Sueing said. “We wanted to come into this game and be aggressive because we know Texas Tech is a defensively oriented team. We wanted to be aggressive and not dictate how we would play. Opening with that dunk on the baseline was key to getting off to a good start.”
Holtmann added: “We need this game from him. We need that consistency from him. I thought he was up against a good player on defense in (Techs Kevin) Obanor. We needed his physicality, his length and his height. We said that again and again last year. We needed that rebound at the wing point.
“I’m proud of him, but proud of our entire team. It was a collective team effort. The coaching team did a great job in a short amount of time. Coach Diebler, Coach Netti and Coach Owens did a great job preparing the boys.”
McNeil had 13 points for the Buckeyes. Freshman Brice Sensabaugh added 10 points.
Freshman guard Bruce Thornton had nine points, four rebounds and four assists. Thornton averaged 13 points during his three-game stint in Hawaii.
“We have a newcomer in place,” said Holtmann. “It’s hard to speed it up. He doesn’t make crazy, irrational decisions with the ball. He’s really strong with it and exceptionally balanced. He did a great job again today.”
Key also had nine points for OSU.
“Everyone on this team has the ability to hit the ball and run,” Key said. “Today when we saw the whole game, Justice put on an amazing performance. He is perfectly healthy. People still ask him about the last two games when he didn’t score that many goals. But he is vital to this team. He’s an older guy and he’s a leader. He had 33 points tonight and it shows when people doubt him he comes out and people shouldn’t doubt him. It’s good to have him.”
Daniel Batcho led Texas Tech with 21 points and six rebounds.
Kevin Obanor, who helped Oral Roberts defeat Ohio State in the NCAA tournament two years ago, had 19 points and De’Vion Harmon and Jaylon Tyson each had 10 for the Red Raiders.
“Give a lot of credit to Ohio State,” said Texas Tech coach Mark Adams. “If you look at the stats, they were slightly better than us in every category. That’s how the game went. They’re a really good team, difficult to guard and well trained. They have good players and I think they’re going to have a great year. This is just another game for us to learn from.”
This was a well-played game as Ohio State shot 52 percent from the floor while Texas Tech shot 51 percent. OSU was 40 percent on threes (8 of 20), while Tech was 28 percent (5 of 18) behind the arc. Both teams had 10 turnovers. Ohio State led for just over 37 minutes — in large part because the Buckeyes were a perfect 18-of-18 at the foul line.
When Texas Tech came into play, Texas Tech was among the national leaders in points allowed (54.4 points per game), percentage defense with field goals (35 percent), and percentage defense with three point field goals (28 Percent). But Holtmann sees his team growing with their own defense.
“I think we have to hang our hat on that and we haven’t been good enough in that area for the last two years,” Holtmann said. “We were solid in the first three years, defensively in the top 25. We have to keep getting better.
“I didn’t think we were great in the first half. I thought we were better and more consistent in the second half.”