Justice Sueing Could Be “Primary Playmaker” in Big Moments for Buckeyes: “He Can Definitely Take Another Step Offensively”

By Griffin Strom on October 15, 2021 at 1:15 pm
Justice Sueing

No one Buckeye is likely to absorb Duane Washington’s scoring load singlehandedly this season.

Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann made that clear Thursday after spending the past two weeks getting familiar with his fifth Buckeye roster during preseason practice.

“I’m not sure right now that I would say, ‘OK, yep, this guy we could say could go get 32 in a Big Ten semifinal game,’” Holtmann said, in reference to Washington’s memorable performance in last year’s postseason win over Michigan. “I think that’s still evolving, I think we’ve got some answers there, but I think it could be more of a collective, a couple guys.” 

A by-committee approach was always the more plausible scenario for replacing Washington’s team-leading 16.4 points per game, but Holtmann did mention one name in particular when asked about filling that void.

And it wasn’t a new transfer addition or true freshman.

“I think you’ll see Justice Sueing take another step offensively, so I would point to him,” Holtmann said. “I think he can definitely take another step offensively. And then I think we have a collection of guys that will help carry that load.”

It may be natural to look outward for a quick fix, and the Buckeyes seemed to do so this offseason when they brought in Louisiana transfer guard Cedric Russell just days after Washington’s decision to remain in the NBA Draft. However, early returns from Holtmann suggest that last year’s first-team All-Sun Belt honoree will need more time to acclimate to the step up in competition.

Sueing, on the other hand, averaged more points last season than any returning Buckeye not named E.J. Liddell. In fact, Sueing’s 10.7 points per game were the most for any Ohio State third option since Jae’Sean Tate averaged 12.3 points per game as the Buckeyes’ third-leading scorer in 2017-18.

In his second season with the Buckeyes, and first on the court after transferring from Cal in 2019-20, the 6-foot-7 forward tallied double-digit points on 17 occasions. In the final eight games of the season, Sueing averaged 12.1 points per game, including a season-high 22 in Ohio State’s Big Ten tournament championship game appearance against Illinois.

The flashes Sueing showed left many – perhaps even Sueing himself – to wonder if he could sustain a higher level of offensive production on a more consistent basis.

“I still think I should’ve done a little bit more, man, looking back on it. But at the end of the day, I felt like I did a pretty good job,” Sueing said. “I will say the physicality was definitely a question for me, as far as how it would be. Basketball is the same everywhere, but I feel like basketball in different conferences, they call it differently. So that was something I was interested to see how it would play out. It played out in my favor, I was still able to get to the line and be productive in that way.” 

For Holtmann, it was the Illinois performance in particular – along with the strides Sueing has taken this offseason – that inspired confidence in his ability to take the next step. In the Buckeyes’ biggest game of the season to that point, Sueing shot 9-for-9 from the free-throw line and was more aggressive on offense than he had been all year, logging a season-high 14 field-goal attempts.

With just 23 seconds to play against Illinois, Sueing converted a three-point play that tied the Big Ten title game at 77-all to send it into overtime.

“I think Justice is a guy who you’ll see in those moments more,” Holtmann said. “If you remember, I believe it was the Illinois game when we were down three, he had the ball in his hands late ... and he made a play, he got an and-one, scored. So I do think you could see the ball in his hands as a primary playmaker in some of those situations, for sure.”

Often a Swiss Army knife on the hardwood a year ago, Sueing will once again juggle a myriad of responsibilities for the Buckeyes this season. After being named one of four team captains alongside Liddell, Kyle Young and Justin Ahrens, he is being asked to wear even more hats.

Ohio State’s lack of size down low meant that Sueing occasionally found himself guarding opposing fours and fives last season. When CJ Walker and Jimmy Sotos were both out with injuries, Sueing took up the role of emergency point guard for the Buckeyes.

With the additions of 6-foot-11 Indiana transfer center Joey Brunk and Penn State transfer point guard Jamari Wheeler – not to mention the emergence of Meechie Johnson Jr. and return of a healthy Sotos at point guard – one would expect Sueing to play out of position significantly less often this season.

However, Holtmann said Sueing may actually reprise his point guard role from time to time.

“I think he’ll clearly play both positions,” Holtmann said. “A primary ball-handling role, whether he’s playing the wing spot or even potentially a backup point guard role. Or a point guard role at some point. But I think the ball will be in his hands a fair amount.”

Still, expectations for Sueing’s scoring total should be kept in check. With Liddell now a bona fide Big Ten star to enter the year, something he was not at this time last year, an uptick in shot attempts is sure to come his way. Johnson and Zed Key are also in line for more minutes in their second seasons with the program, and both count scoring the ball at or near the top of their list of strengths as well.

No single player will have to assume the burden alone, Holtmann said.

“It really would be unfair. Duane was going into his third year in our program, and scoring was kind of what he did, and he really grew as the year went on, honestly,” Holtmann said.

In what figures to be his final year of college basketball, though, Sueing hopes to be up to the challenge.

“Now I have a year under my belt, let’s see how I can improve in this upcoming season,” Sueing said.

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