Missed Shots Haunt Buford

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Last updated: 10/19/2011 3:05 PM

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Men's Basketball
Buford Haunted, Motivated by Missed Shots
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Sometimes truth really is in the eye of the beholder.

For most of the country, watching 6-foot guard Kemba Walker carry his Connecticut team to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship was a marvelous story of perseverance. 

Senior OSU guard Jon Diebler reacts in stunned disbelief to OSU's loss to Kentucky in last year's NCAA tournament.
Photo by Jim Davdson
Jon Diebler

For William Buford, it was nothing more than a reminder of what could have been.

“With the tournament still going on, that’s all that was being talked about,” Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft said.

“Understanding that other people are still playing when you’re not is humbling and makes you motivated.”

Few things motivate more than the pain of coming up short of a championship. Especially when that championship was within their grasp. There is no guarantee the Buckeyes would have cut down the nets with a victory over Kentucky, but they were the favorites to win it all.

After winning 34 games during the regular season—including their first 24 to start the season—the Buckeyes were the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. On paper, they seemed to have it all: a great coach, a star freshman, a gritty point guard and tremendous senior leadership.

Everything was in place right up until tipoff. That’s when the Buckeyes found out they were going to have to overcome a horrendous shooting night from Buford, who clanged shot after shot after shot during Ohio State’s 62-60 loss in the Sweet 16.

“My head wasn’t in that game,” Buford admitted last week.

“It wasn’t. I was rushing shots. I could have done other things besides shoot to help my team win. I just kept trying to shoot to get myself out of that slump.”

Known for his smooth stroke and aggressiveness on offense, Buford couldn’t buy a basket against the Wildcats. He missed 14 of his 16 shots, including a fall-away three-point shot at the buzzer that would have sent the Buckeyes to the Elite Eight.

William Buford lets a shot go against Kentucky in the NCAA tournament.
Photo by Jim Davidson
William Buford

“It was the last shot,” Buford said shaking his head.

“I shot 2-for-16, I had a shot to win the game. It was just crazy.”

It was crazy because Buford was one of the most dangerous scorers in the country last season.

The junior out of Toledo averaged 14.4 points per game, and he had scored 16 or more points in four-straight games leading up to the Kentucky game. He was coming off back-to-back 18-point performances in Cleveland during the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

“He’s got a chance to be the all-time leading-scorer at Ohio State. I can’t fault him for the shots he took,” Craft said.

“Yeah, they are shots he usually makes, but they didn’t happen to fall that night. I’ll pass the ball to Will again and again, he’ll knock down shots eventually.”

That’s exactly what Buford was thinking that night at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. The game was back-and-forth for 40 minutes and one or two big baskets from Buford would have broken it open for the Buckeyes.

Had he shot 4-of-16 instead of 2-of-16, the Buckeyes would have been playing North Carolina in the next round. That wasn’t the part that bothers Buford the most now that he has had some time to think about the game. 

“I could have been rebounding or getting assists or getting steals, but instead I just kept shooting,” he said very introspectively.

“I felt like I was rushing too much and my mind wasn’t there. I was too frustrated because I was missing shots. I was trying to get out of it and make some more shots.”

The shooting performance alone would have been enough to haunt Buford during the off-season, but he even had a chance at redemption. The storybook ending would have had Buford’s last-second-three drop between the cylinder. Instead, it drifted to the right, hit off the front of the rim and bounced harmlessly away from the basket.

It wasn’t until June or July that Buford stopped thinking about that game on a daily basis.

“It’s still in my head, but I don’t sweat about it too much anymore,” he said.

It also played a part in Buford’s decision to return to Ohio State for his senior season.

“Absolutely. I stayed in the gym because I don’t want that to ever happen again,” Buford said.

“I'm glad I could learn from that situation so it can never happen again. It will make me a better player and a better person.”

Buford talked about that performance with OSU Head Coach Thad Matta during the off-season, but he had already come to his own conclusions about the way he let his team down.

“We talked about it, but we didn’t really have to,” he said.

“I figured it out, I’m smart enough to figure it out.”

And apparently mature enough. Not many players would have the guts to look at themselves through such a high-powered microscope. Not after a game like that. Not after letting an entire fan base down, not to mention the guys in that locker room.

“Going back and looking at it, the shots that he missed in that game were shots that I've seen him make for three years,” Matta added.

“I don't think anybody wanted William to make a shot more than I did at that particular juncture, just to get him going. I think hopefully that helped him go into this summer and prove what he wants to be and drive him a little bit more.”

Three years ago, it might not have had the same effect, but a lot has changed in the senior.

“I think he's ready for what's coming at him,” Matta said.

It only seems right that would eventually include a chance at redemption.

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