Buckeyes Tame Wildcats in Blowout Win in Big Ten Opener
By Ben Axelrod
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was often hard to find a smile on the face of Ohio State senior guard William Buford throughout an inconsistent nonconference season that saw him score as few as two points in a game against Texas Pan-American.
During the No. 2 Buckeyes (13-1, 1-0) blowout-win in its conference opener on Wednesday, it was hard to find a time when OSU’s lone senior wasn’t grinning.
Buford scored a career-high 28 points on 9-14 shooting and pulled down a season-high nine rebounds as the Buckeyes began their quest for a Big Ten championships three-peat with a 87-54 victory over Northwestern (10-3, 0-1).
The Toledo product said that his career performance was far from the highlight of his OSU career, but did admit to it being one of the more enjoyable nights of his playing career.
“I’ve been here for four years, I’ve had a lot of fun,” Buford said.
“When we’re going up and down, that’s my style of play. I like that even better. It was a lot of fun for me tonight.”
Making five of his seven 3-point shot attempts on Wednesday, Buford spearheaded an OSU offensive attack that successfully relied on its outside game more so than it had over the first 13 games.
The Buckeyes made 10 of their 20 shots from outside the arc against the Wildcats, a far cry from the 32.6 percent they shot against out of conference competition this season.
“We were saving it,” OSU coach Thad Matta joked after the game.
“We have shot the ball more with this team than any team I’ve ever had before. We’ve been probably harder on guys in practice in shooting and getting them to understand the importance of it.”
After the teams fought to a 13-13 score during the first eight minutes of play, the three-ball played a key role in a 23-4 OSU run that helped boost the Buckeyes to a 41-26 lead heading into halftime.
The Wildcats brought the Big Ten’s top-two scorers this season to Columbus, although you wouldn’t know it having watched the first half. Northwestern forwards John Shurna and Drew Crawford combined for 10 first half points on 4-18 shooting before intermission. They finished the game with a combined 24 points, more than 13 points below the duo’s season average. After the game, Buford gave the rest of the conference a scouting report on how to tame the Wildcats’ top scorers.
“Just make it difficult for them, don’t let them get in their rhythm, play help side defense, and just rebound the ball,” Buford said.
The cushy first-half lead translated into a second half that only saw OSU extend its lead and manage to get every active member of its team into the game. After the game, Matta said that Northwestern got the Buckeyes’ best effort on Tuesday night.
“I felt like the things that we thought were important going into the game, our guys did a very good job of executing,” Matta said.
“The moral of the story here is that we’ve had some very good practices heading into this game and we actually played like we practiced.”
Sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas added 16 points and sophomore guard Jordan Sibert added a season-high 12 points on 3-4 shooting from 3-point range for the Buckeyes. Buford attributed OSU’s outside success to the inside presence of sophomore forward Jared Sullinger.
After spending the past month dealing with back and foot injuries, the Columbus-native pulled down a season-high 14 rebounds and added 17 points in what was clearly his most impressive game since the Buckeyes faced Duke on Nov. 29.
“You can’t guard him one-on-one, he’s just going to kill you,” Buford said of Sullinger.
“He’s the best big man in the country, and he draws so much attention, it just makes it easier for us.”
But as the rest of the Big Ten prepares for what a healthy Sullinger might bring to conference play, Northwestern coach Bill Carmody’s just relieved that his days of facing Buford will be over after this season.
“He’s a senior now, right?” Carmody rhetorically asked. “Thank God.”
The Buckeyes return to action on Saturday when they’ll travel to Bloomington, Ind. to face No. 15 Indiana.
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