Buford Daggers Spartans for Big Ten Title Share
By Brandon Castel
EAST LANSING, Mich. — If there were assists on No. 10 Ohio State’s 72-70 win over No. 5 Michigan State on Sunday, they would go to Evan Ravenel and Aaron Craft.
The score would go to William Buford.
Photo by Dan Harker
Ravenel came off the bench and gave the Buckeyes eight huge minutes in the second half of their come-from-behind victory. Craft hit a clutch jumper in the final minute to tie the game at 70, but it was Buford’s day, and in many ways, Buford’s moment.
While the senior out of Toledo couldn’t secure a victory on his own Senior Day in Columbus, he certainly helped the Buckeyes (25-6, 13-5) wreck that of Draymond Green and the Spartans (24-7, 13-5) in East Lansing.
Ohio State fell behind 24-9 in the opening nine minutes of the game. They trailed 38-29 at the half, but Buford caught fire in the second half, scoring 19 of his game-high 25 points.
Buford also buried the game-winning dagger on a handoff from Craft with a second on the clock as the Buckeyes rallied for a share of the 2011-12 Big Ten Championship with Michigan State and Michigan.
The game started the way most of Ohio State’s road games have started recently, with the Buckeyes struggling to find a rhythm offensively. The Spartans, who were a perfect 14-0 at home this season, got out to an early 19-7 lead on a three-ball by Brandon Wood with 13:17 to play in the first half.
Photo by Dan Harker
Michigan State extended that lead to 24-9 on a pair of free throws by Adreian Payne, who once again got the better of OSU big man Jared Sullinger in the first half. Sullinger missed his first five shots of the game against Payne and Derrick Nix, and he was just 2-of-10 from the floor in the first half.
As a team, the Buckeyes made only seven of their 28 attempts from the floor in the first half, including 1-of-6 behind the arc. They cut Michigan State’s lead to five, however, on a dunk by Lenzelle Smith, Jr., and trailed by only eight at the half thanks to a 14-of-18 showing at the free throw line.
“Things were really positive in the locker room,” Ravenel said.
“Coach Matta came in and he was really upbeat and positive saying that we could win this game. We shot 25 percent in the first half and we were only down by eight points.”
The second half was a completely different story.
The Buckeyes hit the offensive glass, played with intensity and outhustled the Spartans. Due to injury they were without Branden Dawson, the former McDonald’s All-American who had been guarding Buford in the first half.
Ohio State cut the lead to three points in the early going thanks to Buford, who connected on a long jumper just inside the arc. He was fouled and hit the follow-up free throw, which seemed to get the struggling senior going in a way that only Buford knows.
He followed with a layup and a three as the Spartans had no answer for Buford’s hot hand. He knocked down seven of his 10 shots in the second half, including a clutch three that made it 57-55 MSU with 8:13 to play.
That was right after Sullinger had picked up his fourth foul on an up-and-under basket by Nix. With Sullinger on the bench, it was Ravenel who gave the Buckeyes a boost down the stretch. It started with a three-point play, but he also scored a running layup over Nix, and then hit Deshaun Thomas with a perfect pass under the basket to give OSU a 64-63 lead.
Sullinger would return to the game moments later, and he made a few key second-chance baskets down the stretch, but Ravenel also came up with the biggest defensive play of the game.
Green knocked down a pair of free throws to give MSU a 70-68 lead when Craft drilled a wide-open jumper from the corner to tie it at 70 with 52 seconds left. Tom Izzo drew up a play for Green at the other end, but Ravenel played excellent defense. Green rushed the shot and Sullinger came away with the rebound.
That set up Buford’s game-winner, which was supposed to go to Sullinger.
“We drew up a play for Craft to drive and get it to Jared, but they took away the drive,” Buford said.
“That was when I was supposed to come around for the handoff.”
The Spartans switched the screen, putting point guard Keith Appling on Buford for his pull-up in the final seconds. It was good the moment it left his hand.
“I felt it coming off and I knew it was going down,” said Buford, who has been incredibly streaky during his four-year career.
“I was just glad my teammates and coaches believed in me enough to take that shot.”
With that, the Buckeyes won a share of their third-straight Big Ten championship, and the fifth in the last seven seasons under Thad Matta. The Buckeyes will be the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, which begins Thursday in Indianapolis.
They will face winner of No. 6 Purdue and No. 11 Nebraska at 9 p.m. ET on Friday.
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