COLUMBUS — Ohio State opened its 2022-23 basketball season with a bang on Monday, routing outgunned Robert Morris 91-53 to pick up the first win of the season.
Finally healthy after playing in just two games a season ago, Justice Sueing led Ohio State with a game-high 20 points, and Zed Key recorded the third double-double of his career with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Freshman Brice Sensabaugh and Wright State transfer Tanner Holden, two of eight Ohio State players making their debuts in scarlet uniforms on Monday, combined to add 29 points. Isaac Likekele flirted with a triple-double, recording nine points, six assists, and six rebounds while playing a team-high 30 minutes as the primary ball-handler for Ohio State.
Ohio State shot 56% from the floor as a team, including connecting on 10 of 21 three-point attempts, and outrebounded Robert Morris by a 48-27 margin.
Key got Ohio State off to a quick start, connecting on a three in the first minute to open the scoring and give his team an early 3-0 advantage.
A pair of Sueing free throws and a dunk from Likekele increased Ohio State’s lead to 7-2, but Robert Morris was determined to hang around as Ohio State led by just three points enter the first media timeout.
Enoch Cheeks’ three sparked a 6-0 run by Robert Morris that had Ohio State trailing with 13:12 remaining in the first half, but the deficit would be shortlived.
Key hit his second three of the half to beat an expiring shot clock and recapture a 16-15 lead, and Ohio State would never trail again. Roddy Gayle followed it up with a three of his own on the next possession for the first points of his college career, and Ohio State’s lead increased to 19-15 as the game neared the midway mark of the half.
A pair of threes by Sueing on consecutive possessions gave Ohio State its largest lead of the evening at 29-21, and Felix Okpara followed the Sueing spurt with a dunk for his first collegiate points as Ohio State took its first double-digit lead of the evening.
Threes from Bruce Thornton and Sean McNeil helped Ohio State to close the half on a 6-0 run and take a 42-28 lead into the halftime break.
A 11-5 run by Ohio State blew the game wide open to begin the second half. Key got it started with an easy finish at the rim and then added a pair of free throws, and McNeil’s second three of the game pushed the Ohio State lead to 49-31.
Sueing capped off the run with a transition layup for a 53-33 lead with 16:11 remaining in the game as Ohio State began to assert its dominance over Robert Morris.
The lead ballooned to 31 points on a three by Holden as Ohio State scored at will over the final 10 minutes, and Ohio State closed the game on a 14-2 run to increase the lead to 40 points in the final minutes.
Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said of his team following the game, “This was a good opportunity to go against a physical team that is well-coached and has some athleticism, so I’m pleased with some things tonight.”
Holtmann was complimentary of the play of his freshmen, who will play a large role in the ultimate success of the team this season. However, he cautioned there will be ups and downs for them as they learn how to play at the level required to win in the Big Ten.
“Listen, I’ve said they’re going to show glimpses of what they’ve shown through 30 practices of really good play and they’re going to have some head-scratching moments,” Holtmann said. “They are. They’re freshmen, and it’s to be expected. Some will have more head-scratching moments than others, and we’ll have to coach that and bring them along.”
While many eyes were on the play of the star-studded freshmen class, the night belong to Sueing, however, and rightfully so after a string of injuries had relegated him to watching from the bench for much of his time in Columbus.
“It was really emotional,” Sueing said of his return to the court. “I talked to my pops before this and just talked about how God put me through these couple of hurdles I’ve had to deal with over this past year. I think it built me to be stronger as a man and as a player.”
He added, “I just finally felt comfortable to be out there healthy with these guys knowing we’ve worked really hard the past couple of months to get here. And now that the season is actually here, I’m just trying to take it one day at a time.”
Key said of Sueing’s presence on the floor, “He’s a really good player. He can get to the basket, shoot the ball. He’s really versatile, so it opens up lanes for us because teams can’t really help off him … It’s good to have him back. As you saw, he had 20 points, and that’s what he’s going to do all year.”
Holtmann said he had “a moment” with Sueing on the bench late in the game as the final minutes ticked away, a moment in which he told Sueing how proud he was of him. ”I’m just really happy for the kid,” Holtmann said.
Ohio State returns to action on Thursday when it takes on Charleston Southern at 6:30 p.m. in Value City Arena.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on [email protected]