Buford Overcomes Rough Start, Ghosts of UK Game
By Brandon Castel
LAWRENCE, Kan. — It looked like William Buford was wilting in the spotlight, again.
With Jared Sullinger sidelined by back spasms and the No. 2-ranked Buckeyes desperate for an offensive spark against No. 13 Kansas, Buford was coming up empty.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Shot after shot clanged off the rim in the first half of Ohio State’s game at Allen Fieldhouse Saturday and the Buckeyes were falling further behind while the Jayhawks gained confidence and momentum in front of their home crowd.
Instead of rising to the occasion, Buford seemed to be shrinking from it.
“I just tell myself, ‘you’re better than how you’re playing right now,’” Buford said.
“‘You know you can knock down shots so just take your time and knock down a shot.’ Try to get easy buckets.”
While the first half of the Kansas game looked eerily similar to Buford’s entire performance against Kentucky in last year’s NCAA Tournament, when the Buckeyes were bounced from the Sweet 16, his internal message was entirely different this time around.
“The past couple years I probably would have just kept shooting threes or whatever. I think I’ve matured a little bit,” he said.
“My teammates kept telling me to shoot when they were able to get me the ball in spots where I could score.”
Much like the Kentucky game, where Buford missed 14 of his 16 shots, including a potential game-winning three at the buzzer, he simply couldn’t find his rhythm in the first half. Jayhawks coach Bill Self thought his team did a good job making Buford a high-volume shooter, but Buford felt like he was getting the looks he wanted.
“It was all on me,” he said.
“They didn’t do anything I haven’t seen before. They tried to deny me the ball in the first and second half, but they’ve been playing me like this ever since I’ve been here. I know how to read the defense and come off screens to get open.”
Buford is considered to be a potential first round pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, but he had the worst shooting night of his career against the Wildcats in last year’s tournament. The Buckeyes lost 62-60 after Buford’s game-winning three bounced off the front rim, and the Toledo native said that performance stuck with him throughout the off-season.
Not a day went by where he didn’t think about that game and what he could have done to help his team win. But it wasn’t in the back of his mind Saturday, even when the shots stooped falling in the first half.
“That game is far behind me. I don’t even think about that game anymore,” Buford said.
“It’s in the past, there isn’t a reason to think about it any more. I just have to worry about the game I’m in right now and do what I can to help my team win.”
With Buford struggling and Sullinger watching from the bench, Ohio State had serious issues scoring the basketball against Kansas on Saturday. They shot just 33.3 percent from the floor in the first half, but trailed by only five points at the break thanks to a 15-point explosion from Deshaun Thomas.
The sophomore from Indiana played 20 minutes of his best basketball at Ohio State, and it gave Buford a chance to get his head and his shot right for the second half.
“I just wanted to take easy shots instead of just taking jumpers,” he said.
“Most of my jumpers in the first half, I was fading away. I wasn’t sticking to my shot, so in the second half I told myself I was going to stick to my shot and try to get to the hole.”
It was a mature decision by a kid who has grown up a lot in his fours years under Ohio State coach Thad Matta. He has developed from a raw natural scorer, not unlike Thomas, to a crafty veteran who can use his moves to get a shot any time he wants.
It is that part of Buford’s game that will best transition to the next level, but the ball eventually has to go through the basket. It did in the second half. After shooting just 1-7 in the first 20 minutes, Buford attacked the Kansas defense, using position and angles to get himself better looks at the basket.
“I just felt like I needed to catch a rhythm and get closer to the rim,” he said.
“I was trying to get to the free throw line, but if I didn’t, just try to fight through contact and make a layup.”
Buford missed his first shot of the second half and it turned into an easy three for Elijah Johnson at the other end. The Jayhawks extended their lead to 10 points at 47-37 and it looked like Ohio State was ready to collapse without the presence of their two best scorers.
Then one of them showed up.
Buford’s first basket of the second half came at the 13:28 mark and it was quickly followed by four more. He scored from every angle: on tip-ins, layups, spinning bank shots off the glass and unstoppable fade-away shots over a defender's head.
Suddenly the Jayhawks had no answer for Buford, who scored 14 of the team’s 17 points over a five-minute stretch as the deficit went from 12 points down to six with 6:45 to play in the game.
“We all know what Will can do,” point guard Aaron Craft said.
“We see him do it every day, every week and we know eventually he was going to make the shots we needed when we needed them most.”
Forget that Ohio State’s star senior had scored 21 points in a win over No. 8 Florida and 20 points in an upset of No. 3 Duke, his new reputation was a guy who didn’t show up in big games.
Forget that he scored 18 points in the Big Ten Tournament title game or that he averaged 18 in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament last season. Forget that he dropped 18 on Wisconsin and 19 on Purdue during Ohio State’s regular-season blowouts, or that he had 23 points in a 10-point win over Michigan State.
He also had 19 points and nine rebounds in a 4-point win at Michigan where Sullinger was struggling mightily—and 15 in Ohio State’s Sweet 16 loss to Tennessee his sophomore year—but Buford’s reputation was suddenly built around one game.
“(It bothers me) a little bit now, but people don’t forget,” Buford said.
“It is what it is.”
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