Ohio State forward Justice Sueing returned to his home state of Hawaii and had – at least up until now – the best game of his college basketball career on Wednesday.
Sueing, playing his “super senior” season for the Buckeyes, poured in 33 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out five assists as Ohio State knocked off No. 21 Texas Tech 80-73 in the fifth-place game of the Maui Invitational. It was played Wednesday afternoon at the Lahaina Civic Center.
The win capped a 2-1 showing for the Buckeyes (5-1 overall) in Hawaii after they dropped their opener there to San Diego State 88-77 Monday and throttled in-state rival Cincinnati 81-53 on Tuesday.
Sueing was a mainstay for the Buckeyes in the 2020-21 season but missed all of two games last season due to an abdominal injury. He used the extra year of eligibility afforded him because of 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 then.
“I’m going to get emotional,” OSU coach Chris Holtmann said. “Because I know what that kid has been through. He’s been through a hell of a lot. He really struggled the first night here and the first couple of games here in front of his family. But when you see a kid with a season-ending injury who has a lot of promise… you want the best for him. Today was a pretty good way of ending his trip here.”
Sueing had 23 of his points in the second half as the Buckeyes held off every charge from the Red Raiders (4-2). Sueing scored 15 straight points for the Buckeyes from the midway point of the second half until a pair of his teammates, Sean McNeil and Zed Key, made free throws in the final minute to help put it away.
“I have been working, just trying to get back into the flow of things,” Sueing admitted. “My teammates continue to support me and the coaching staff continues to support me. I’ve continued to believe in God and his path for me. It was a big game and we had to come in and be ready for them. I’m really proud of this team, especially being so young. It is a great feeling.”
Sueing finished 12 of 19 from the floor, 1 of 5 on threes and 8 of 8 at the foul line. He went baseline for an emphatic two-handed slam in the first half to almost announce that he was back to full health.
“It definitely set a tone for us,” Sueing said. “We wanted to come into this game and be aggressive, knowing Texas Tech is a defensive-minded team. We wanted to be aggressive and not let them dictate how we would play. Opening up with that baseline dunk was key in getting off to a good start.”
Holtmann added, “We need that play from him. We need that consistency from him. I thought he competed on the defensive end against a good player in (Tech’s Kevin) Obanor. We needed his physicality, his length and his size. We kept saying that last year. We needed that rebounding at the wing spot.
“I’m proud of him, but proud of our whole team. It was a collective team effort. The coaching staff did a great job in a short turnaround. Coach Diebler, Coach Netti and Coach Owens did a great job preparing the guys.”
McNeil had 13 points for the Buckeyes. Freshman Brice Sensabaugh added 10 points.
Freshman guard Bruce Thornton chipped in nine points, four rebounds and four assists. Thornton averaged 13 points in his three-game stay in Hawaii.
“We have a composed freshman at the point,” Holtmann said. “It’s hard to speed him up. He doesn’t make crazy, irrational decisions with the ball. He’s really strong with it and exceptionally poised. He put another great effort today.”
Key had nine points as well for OSU.
“Anybody on this team has the ability to score the ball and go off,” Key said. “Today, as we saw the whole game, Justice had a dazzling performance. He’s completely healthy. People still question him after the last two games when he didn’t score that much. But he is vital for 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 scored 10 for the Red Raiders.
“Give a lot of credit to Ohio State,” Texas Tech coach Mark Adams said. “If you look at the stat sheet, they were a little better than us in every category. That’s kind of how the game went. They are a really good team, hard to guard and well coached. They have good players and I think they’re going to have a great year. This is just another game we can 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.
Coming into the game, Texas Tech was among the national leaders in points allowed (54.4 points per game), field goal percentage defense (35 percent) and three-point field goal percentage defense (28 percent). But Holtmann sees his team continuing to grow with its own defensive effort.
“I think we have to hang our hat on that and we have not been good enough in that area the last two years,” Holtmann said. “We were solid our first three years, in the top 25 defensively. We’ve got to be better consistently.
“I didn’t think we were great in the first half. I thought we were better and more consistent in the second half.”