Gonzaga star freshman Jalen Suggs went down in the first half of the Bulldogs‘ win over West Virginia with what looked to be a potentially serious leg injury, but returned a few minutes into the second half and played the final 15 minutes to help cement the 87-82 victory over the Mountaineers at the Jimmy V Classic in Indianapolis on Wednesday night.
After the game, Bulldogs coach Mark Few said Suggs “just tweaked his ankle a little bit.”
With seven minutes left in the first half, Suggs slipped after passing the ball to teammate Joel Ayayi and landed awkwardly. He was grimacing in pain while holding the back of his left ankle and needed to be helped to the sideline. Suggs sat on the bench while trainers looked at his leg and ankle, with a towel occasionally covering his face. He eventually gingerly walked toward the tunnel, but instead of going straight into the locker room, he walked back and forth in the hallway.
By the time the second half began, Suggs was picking up the pace of his tunnel exercises and putting significantly more weight on his injured ankle. He made his way to the bench and checked back into the game with 15:53 left to play, despite a clear limp.
“I didn’t want him to play, but he was pretty convincing,” Few said. “He just tweaked his ankle a little bit. Once the trainers told me that’s what it was, he’s a pretty ferocious competitor. So he convinced me that he could be a factor. He was limping around on the first up-and-down. I told him if he keeps limping, I was gonna pull him out. And he quit limping, so I left him in there. He made some really nice winning plays for us.”
Suggs, a 6-foot-4 freshman guard, had been one of the most impressive players in college basketball during the first week of the season. He opened his career with 24 points and eight assists in a victory over Kansas, then followed that up with 12 points and six assists in a win over Auburn.
The projected lottery pick had only four points to go with six rebounds and five assists on Wednesday, but he played the final 15:53 without coming out of the game and picked up a few assists and steals down the stretch to help seal the win.
“When we got out on the floor, he just told Coach that he wanted to play,” guard Andrew Nembhard said. “We had a lot of confidence in him coming back to play. He’s a tough dude, so he’s gonna fight through that.”
With Suggs not at full strength, Nembhard stepped up for top-ranked Gonzaga (3-0). The Florida transfer came off the bench to finish with 19 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists, and consistently made big plays in the second half.
Drew Timme, who averaged 26.5 points in the first two games of the season, scored just three points in the first half — but bounced back with 14 after halftime. Ayayi finished with 21 points.
“At first we were kind of obviously disappointed. We all love J and want to play with J, but we knew guys had to step up,” Nembhard said. “Him coming back in the game was big for us. We know he’s a tough dude.”
Gonzaga’s difficult nonconference schedule is set to continue this weekend, with the Bulldogs taking on No. 2 Baylor on Saturday.