Justice Sueing is tired of talking about his health.
Asked if fans can finally put injury concerns to bed following his long-awaited return to action on Monday, the veteran forward answered with a question of his own – and the tone on his tongue had a touch of glib to it.
“Did I look healthy tonight?”
Given his performance against Robert Morris, the question was rhetorical.
Had Monday’s season opener been played five days later, it would’ve been a full calendar year since Sueing’s last official appearance in scarlet and gray. That didn’t stop Chris Holtmann from starting the sixth-year forward and second-year team captain against Robert Morris, and Sueing looked as good as ever. After missing all but two games of the 2021-22 season with an abdominal injury, not to mention his absence in the Buckeyes’ exhibition due to an ankle sprain last week, Sueing’s 20-point performance showed there wasn’t much rust to shake off after all.
As frustrating as much of the past year has been for Sueing, it made Monday’s moment all the more rewarding. Emotions flowed through the Hawaii native before tip-off, but they never overwhelmed him once the game began.
“It was really emotional. I talked to my pops before this and just talked about how God put me through these couple of hurdles that I had to deal with over this past year,” Sueing said. “And I think it built me to be stronger as a man and as a player. So it was just a quick little prayer to thank God, and then I yell at the goal to get myself hyped and got right into it.”
It wasn’t a perfect start for Sueing, who missed back-to-back free-throw attempts at the 18:06 mark, but he got cooking quickly thereafter. Sueing went right back to the rack on the very next possession, drew another foul and this time knocked down both shots from the foul line.
Fifty seconds later, Sueing grabbed an offensive rebound and converted a putback layup to score four of the first nine points for the Buckeyes. He was just getting warmed up.
After a few minutes on the bench, Sueing made plays all over the floor during a six-minute stretch in which Ohio State went from trailing to back ahead by double digits. With Robert Morris ahead by one, Sueing found Zed Key for his second 3-pointer of the day to retake the lead for the Buckeyes. Sueing hit a layup to extend the lead to six at 9:08, blocked a shot 20 seconds later and then knocked down two 3-pointers from 7:49 to 6:29.
The second three saw Sueing get particularly fired up, as it gave him 12 points in the first half alone, and his next assist opened up a 10-point lead for Ohio State with 5:58 to play before intermission.
“Man, I just finally felt comfortable to be out there healthy with these guys. We've worked really hard over these past couple of weeks, past couple of months really since the summertime, to get here,” Sueing said. “So now that the season is actually here, we're just taking it one day at a time. But I'm glad we were able to take this one tonight.”
Sueing just kept rolling in the second half. A fastbreak layup by the veteran wing gave Ohio State a 20-point lead with 16:11 left to play, and he hit three of his next four shots before his night came to a close for the final six minutes and change. The highlight of the night for Sueing might have been a steal at the top of the key that led to a runout dunk in transition at the other end with 8:44 to play.
That sequence put the Buckeyes up 27, and Chris Holtmann didn’t leave Sueing on the floor much longer. In fact, the Ohio State head coach said he took a second to reflect on the moment with Sueing once the game began winding down.
“We had a moment on the bench. Told him how proud of him I was and how happy I was for him,” Holtmann said. “Once the game was at hand, we had a moment on the bench. Just really happy for the kid.”
Holtmann said Sueing, who hit eight of his 14 shot attempts Monday, wasn’t as efficient against Wake Forest in Ohio State’s secret scrimmage. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if Sueing had to overcome some early-season adversity due to all his time off, even if it was “hard to notice” any rust against Robert Morris.
Holtmann called Sueing “one of the better rebounding wings in college basketball,” and even though he only finished with two boards against the Colonials, Ohio State had an improved performance on the glass compared to last week’s exhibition against Chaminade.
“I hope that attachment goes away. Injuries, unfortunately, is attached to sports in general. And every time you go out there there's always risk for it.”– Justice Sueing on Concerns About his Health
As for if he’s no longer concerned about Sueing’s health after seeing his performance on Monday, Holtmann didn’t go quite that far.
“I worry about everything. Everything,” Holtmann said. “Did they like the pregame meal? Did they understand the ball screen coverage? Did I practice too long? Everything. So yeah, that's at the top of the list.”
Sueing hopes those concerns soon subside, whether they come from his head coach or the Buckeye fan base, but he’ll have to string together more than just one game before that happens.
“I hope that attachment goes away. Injuries, unfortunately, is attached to sports in general. And every time you go out there there's always risk for it,” Sueing said. “But I worked really hard on my body this summer just to get it back in shape. Went through a lot of ups and downs, but I'm real persistent with it and I'm gonna continue to get my body in the best shape I can.”
If Sueing stays healthy and continues to play like he did in the season opener, though, then he’ll soon put that tag behind him as he tries to make up for lost time in his final year.