Buford Carries Buckeyes to Gritty Win Over Boilers
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was only one loose ball, but William Buford made it count.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Ohio State’s lone senior slammed it home, capping a career night as the No. 3-ranked Buckeyes held on for an 87-84 victory over Purdue on Tuesday night.
With the Buckeyes (21-3, 9-2) nursing an 81-76 lead in the final minute, and star Jared Sullinger sitting on the bench, Buford came up with one of the biggest plays of the game.
The Boilermakers (15-9, 5-6) had three looks at the basket, but Buford finally got his hands on the ball after it ricocheted off a number of Purdue players. He popped it up in the air and raced down the court to grab it for the emphatic one-handed slam.
“I like the fact that we made the plays we had to make down the stretch to win the game,” OSU head coach Thad Matta said.
“Some way we found ways to challenge shots, found ways to come up with rebounds. We were a little disheveled with our lineup, but guys were doing what they needed to do. I like that we made our free throws down the stretch—that was big.”
Freshman Sam Thompson and junior Evan Ravenel both made critical plays down the stretch, but it was Buford who carried the Buckeyes to their 39th straight win at home.
Photo by Jim Davidson
The senior out of Toledo Libbey broke out of his slump to score a career-high 29 points on 10-of-17 shooting. He also had seven rebounds and two assists and did not turn the ball over once in 40 minutes against the Boilermakers.
“He had a great couple days of preparation and shot the ball really well in practice,” point guard Aaron Craft said.
“Any time you have a scorer like Will, he’s due for a game like this. That’s what he’s capable of doing and that’s what we want from him.”
After the game, Buford acknowledged that it’s hard to stop him when he is feeling it, but he hasn’t been “feeling it” much as of late. Since dropping 28 points on Northwestern in the Big Ten opener, Buford had been struggling to find his shot, but not Tuesday.
Not only did he score 21 points in the second half, which helped the Buckeyes overcome a horrendous defensive performance, but he would score seven straight points after Purdue had tied the game at 73-all with 4:42 to play.
“I haven’t been worried about Will,” Matta said.
“I think Will has been playing pretty good basketball. Maybe the shots haven’t been falling for him, but nobody can make them all. You know we want him to shoot and make them, but you look at him and everything he’s done here. I have great confidence in him and will never lose it.”
Matta also has great confidence in his team’s defense, but it simply wasn’t on against the Boilermakers. Part of that was an excellent game plan by Purdue coach Matt Painter, and part of it was simply the fact his players were making their outside shots early and often.
“We made some shots; we don’t shoot like that every game. We were able to open it up and play smaller with more skilled guys,” Painter said after his team shot 52 percent from the floor and 58 percent from behind the arc.
“I thought (Kelsey) Barlow did a good job of getting away from Craft. He can be so dominating as a defensive point guard. He can funnel you where he wants and Barlow and (Lewis) Jackson got out on the run a little bit and got them playing from behind. When you are playing against the bigs and not one-on-one with Aaron Craft, your percentages of making plays are going to be higher.”
It also helps to have a player knock down seven of his nine shots from behind the arc the way junior D.J. Byrd did in this one.
“I think for whatever reason, we’re like the get well card for people,” Meyer said shaking his head.
“He was feeling it tonight. The one he hit running towards our bench and made it falling down—what are you going to do? He was in the zone and that’s what he does.”
Byrd actually came into the game averaging only 6.5 points per contest this season, but he scored a career-high 24 against the Buckeyes. Barlow and Jackson added 14 apiece while senior Robbie Hummel chipped in with 13.
The two teams were tied at 40 at halftime, thanks in large part to 17 unconscious points from Byrd in the first half. The Buckeyes got 10 points from Craft and seven from Lenzelle Smith, Jr. in the first half, but Sullinger had only seven points and one rebound.
He came on stronger in the second half, totaling 18 points and six rebounds, but had to leave the game at the 6:50 mark after falling hard to the floor. He would limp the bench with the Buckeyes clinging to a 71-70 lead, but it was Ravenel who came on and tipped in a huge basket for Ohio State.
Thompson had a key block on Barlow and Buford went on his tear to close out the game. Afterward, Sullinger said he would be ready to play Saturday against Michigan State (6 p.m. ET, ESPN), despite the fact he was icing a left hip injury.
“We'll get him ready to go,” Matta said.
Then added, “I hope.”
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