It appears Ohio State is on the verge of getting a key piece back in the rotation after fifth-year senior forward Justice Sueing was spotted conducting a pregame workout ahead of Tuesday night’s blowout of IUPUI.
“I think he is taking it one step at a time and kind of evaluating how he feels,” head coach Chris Holtmann said of Sueing, who has missed all but two games this season with an abdominal injury. “He’s getting closer. He’s getting close to returning to practice, which that’s obviously close to returning to games.
“It’s probably been the most I’ve been disappointed for a kid in maybe 20 years of coaching. He is such a good player. I think he has not reached his ceiling as a player. He is so important for our team. He’s missed a chunk of games. I’m optimistic, but he’s taking it one step at a time.”
Sueing, who transferred from California ahead of the 2019-20 season, was one of just two players to start all 31 games for the Buckeyes last year. He averaged 10.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, all while dealing with the nagging injury.
That unfortunately carried over to this season, when Sueing was held out of the preseason exhibition game and averaged just 6.0 points and 3.5 rebounds in wins over Akron and Niagara. He was then ruled out for an “extended period” after seeing a specialist, who told him he simply needed time to heal.
The Buckeyes have gone 10-4 overall and 5-2 in Big Ten play without Sueing in the lineup, but his return would be a significant boost for the Buckeyes as they head into the final 13 games of the regular season, followed the conference and NCAA tournaments.
The same could be said for sixth-year senior forward Seth Towns, who averaged 3.8 points and 2.2 rebounds in 25 games last season – his first with the program after transferring from Harvard – but has missed every game this year after undergoing offseason back surgery.
He’s further behind in his recovery, though, so the focus could be for him to return to full strength for next season, when they both could take advantage of the extra year granted to all student-athletes amid the pandemic.
“I think they both want to try and play if they can this year. I know they both do,” Holtmann said. “If we get closer and it looks like one of them can’t return or doesn’t feel theirselves and need to shut it down, then we’ll have that conversation.
“Given just COVID and all of that, if guys want to play, I am certainly going to be open to that because we are already down considerable numbers right now with Meechie (Johnson) being out. Those are three important guys for us.”
Johnson, meanwhile, has missed the last three games after taking an inadvertent elbow to the face in practice last week.
The freshman guard – who is averaging 6.6 points, 1.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 13 games off the bench this season – has not been cleared by the medical staff to return to practice and will likely have to wear a protective mask when he does in a week or two.
"He's taking steps forward," Holtmann said during his weekly radio show on Monday afternoon. "We obviously look forward to getting Meechie back. We miss his ability to kind of pressure the ball, make shots, play make and all those things.
“Hopefully this won't set him back because he was in a pretty good rhythm and a pretty good groove, but we look forward to getting him back."
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