Buckeyes Hoping for Bounce Back from Inconsistent Buford
By Ben Axelrod
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State guard William Buford only has 80 minutes left to play in front of the fans he has called his own for the past four years.
What those fans will witness in either of Buford’s final two home games is impossible to predict.
Photo by Jim Davidson
To say that Ohio State’s lone senior has been inconsistent throughout his final year in Columbus would be an understatement. It started with a 2-for-16, nine-point performance against Kentucky in last year’s Sweet 16 to close out a junior season that saw him earn second team All-Big Ten honors.
At the time, the woeful performance seemed to be an aberration and the exception to the rule. But as the 2012 Big Ten season has proven, there are no rules when it comes to predicting what the Buckeyes are going to get from the Toledo native on a nightly basis.
After a streaky out-of-conference schedule that saw his nightly scoring total range anywhere from two to 25 points, Buford appeared to be back on track towards a third consecutive All-Big Ten selection thanks to a career-high 28-point performance in the conference opener against Northwestern. But the Toledo Libbey product followed the career-high by scoring just eight points in Ohio State’s New Year’s Eve loss at Indiana.
It is a point total he would match on Jan. 7 against Iowa during a nine-game stretch that saw the senior average 12.1 points per game while never scoring more than 15 points in a single contest.
That streak was broken on Feb. 7 when Buford exploded for a new career-high with 29 points in OSU’s three-point win over Purdue. Buckeye fans who were hoping that his outburst against the Boilermakers was the sign of a new Buford were sorely disappointed, however, when he encored with a four-point performance in a Feb. 12 loss to Michigan State.
The Buckeyes’ last two games have followed a similar script to their previous two, with Buford scoring 24 points in a win over Minnesota and then just six points on 3-of-12 shooting in a loss to Michigan. In OSU’s past four games, the Buckeyes are 2-2, with their senior guard averaging 26.5 points in the wins and five points per game in the losses.
Head coach Thad Matta said that it is not a coincidence that off-shooting nights and Buckeyes losses go hand-in-hand.
“If you go back over time, and I’ve said this: we’ve been very, very fortunate with our winning percentage, and you look at games of when we didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, and it’s usually a couple of guys and the verdict’s not usually the way we want it,” Matta said.
“Every team is a little bit different but we had some games over the time here where Will, Jon (Diebler), and Dave (Lighty) didn’t make shots. I want to say one game we combined for 4-for-24 and we lost the game. It’s part of what you have to do.”
As was the case with last season’s Sweet 16 exit to Kentucky, Buford’s off-nights seem to have come when his team has needed him most the season. Against the Big Ten’s current top five teams this season (Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana), Buford is averaging 8.8 points per game. Meanwhile, against the conference’s bottom seven teams (Purdue, Northwestern, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Nebraska, Penn State), he is averaging 18.3 points a night.
Matta said the Buckeyes don’t need for Buford to replicate what he’s doing against the Big Ten’s bottom half every night, but they do need more than what they’re currently getting out of him against the conference’s elite teams.
“We’re trying everything we can to get him to be consistent. We know we need him to not play great, but to play well,” Matta said.
“I don’t want to hang it on Will that we lost the (Michigan) game because of him. We didn’t lose the Kentucky game because of him. We had other chances. There’s nobody in this world that wants William Buford to play better than I do.”
Buford’s backcourt running mate for the past two seasons, Aaron Craft, said the senior guard has remained positive, despite his inconsistent performances over the past few weeks.
“He’s good. I think you can see a little more of a sense of urgency with him,” Craft said.
“He understands that he does have 80 minutes left in this gym and that’s something that’s definitely eye-opening for him and as well as the rest of us. Understanding that the season is coming to a close, but there’s still a lot more basketball to play.”
The first of those 40-minute sessions will come tonight when the Buckeyes host Illinois (7 p.m. ET, ESPN). The second will come Sunday, on Buford’s senior day, when OSU faces Wisconsin (4 p.m. ET, CBS).
Regardless of what his box score shows at the end of each game, OSU sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas said that it won’t be because of a lack of effort from No. 44.
“He comes into practice and always has a positive mindset, you know, always gets us going. It’s really not bothering him that much but he’s just staying positive,” Thomas said.
“I’m sure he’s thinking about it but he’s going to come out and just give it his all.”
What exactly Buford’s ‘all’ brings at the end of the day—and perhaps more importantly—the end of this season, is anybody’s guess.