Buford Bounces Back For Buckeyes Win Over Boilermakers
“Y’all gonna throw me under the bus like that?” William Buford rhetorically asked to his giggling teammates. “Can you repeat that for me, sir?”
Photo by Jim Davidson
Ohio State’s senior guard had missed a question directed towards him in a postgame press conference, but if it was because he was distracted by the box score placed in front of him, no one could’ve blamed him.
Buford had just finished scoring a career-high 29 points in the No. 3 Buckeyes’ 87-84 win over Purdue. It was the type of performance that both Buford and Buckeye fans alike imagined him having when he announced he was returning for his senior season.
But until Tuesday night, it just hadn’t happened yet.
An inconsistent non-conference schedule saw Buford- a career 13.8 points per game scorer- twice fail to reach double-digits in scoring. The Buckeyes’ Big Ten opener against Northwestern saw Buford play one of the best games of his career- a 28-point performance in a win over the Wildcats- but he followed it up by scoring just eight points in OSU’s New Year’s Eve loss to Indiana.
The Toledo-product had some solid scoring games after the Buckeyes’ loss to the Hoosiers, but he never topped 15 points in a single game and committed at least four turnovers in a game on four separate occasions. The inconsistent play left Buford looking like a shell of the second team All-Big Ten selection and projected first round pick that he was a year ago.
But against the Boilermakers, that all changed, and unlike at the postgame podium, he didn’t have teammates Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft by his side.
With 6:21 left in a back-and-forth game between the Buckeyes and Boilermakers, Sullinger headed to the bench to join Craft, with both sophomores having already picked up their fourth fouls. OSU was up 71-70 and Buford was on the court with Deshaun Thomas and three reserves in freshmen Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson and junior Evan Ravenel. If ever there was a time that the Buckeyes needed Buford’s leadership, this was it.
“Offensively I knew I had to pick it up,” Buford said. “Throughout the game I had seen good looks and I was just taking them and was fortunate to knock them down.”
Buford’s first shot attempt was off-target, but was tipped in by Ravenel. After a jumper from Purdue’s Robbie Hummel and free throw from Travis Carroll, the game was knotted up at 73-73 with less than five minutes remaining.
That’s when Buford caught fire.
The Buckeyes’ lone senior single-handily fueled a 7-0 OSU run to give his team some distance and enough time to get Craft and Sullinger back on the floor for the final 1:45 of the game. With 38 seconds left, Buford grabbed a long rebound broke free for a one-handed jam to seal both his career-high game and the Buckeyes’ victory.
“I wasn’t thinking about shots, I was just shooting the ball like my teammates have been telling me to do,” Buford said. “When I’m feeling it, it’s hard to stop me.”
Buford’s big game may have come as a surprise to OSU fans who’ve followed the team closely, but it didn’t appear to catch anyone in the Buckeyes’ locker room off guard.
“It’s the same look he has every game,” Craft said. “Any time you’ve got a scorer like Will, he’s due for games like this. That’s what we want from him and that’s what he’s definitely capable of doing.”
OSU coach Thad Matta echoed Craft in saying that Buford’s early Big Ten struggles weren’t a cause for concern.
“I haven’t been worried about Will,” Matta said. “Will’s been playing pretty good basketball and maybe the shots haven’t been falling for him, but nobody makes ‘em all.”
With weapons like Sullinger and Thomas around him, the Buckeyes don’t need Buford to make ‘em all, but if he can come close to replicating what he did on Tuesday night with any sort of consistency, it should spell trouble for a Big Ten conference that’s already had to deal with the Toledo-product for more than three seasons now.