Andy Gottesman / Multimedia editor
Earlier this season, Ohio State men’s basketball coach Thad Matta described junior guard William Buford as a player who gets better as the season wears on. Considering Buford’s play lately, it’s easy to see Matta was right.
Buford has been the Buckeyes’ leading scorer in each of the team’s past two games, the latest being a 23-point performance in OSU’s 71-61 win against Michigan State (14-11, 6-7 Big Ten) on Tuesday night.
With OSU’s leading scorer for the season, freshman forward Jared Sullinger, playing only 11 minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, it was Buford who ignited the Buckeyes with 14 first-half points, two of which came on a driving one-handed dunk that brought the sold-out Schottenstein Center crowd to its feet.
“They was closing out on me pretty hard ’cause I was making some shots there at the beginning,” Buford said. “I just head-faked and jabbed, and the lane lifted open and I just took it.”
Buford’s soaring jam wasn’t the only memorable play of the night from the guard from Toledo, Ohio. With the Buckeyes trailing by two with less than two minutes remaining in the first half, Buford drained a 3-point shot right in front of MSU coach Tom Izzo and the Spartans’ bench to give OSU a 35-34 lead into halftime.
Buford credited the big three to some motivation from the Spartans.
“One of their big men started talking stuff to me and got me fired up. I was trying to get going just to shut them up,” Buford said. “My teammates were able to get me the ball, and I had a good look and I knocked it down.”
Buford’s stellar play carried into the second half when he recaptured the lead for the Buckeyes with a layup, OSU’s first two points of the half. After a layup by MSU guard Kalin Lucas cut OSU’s lead to two with less than 10 minutes left, Buford answered with a 3-pointer, and then converted a Spartan turnover into a jump shot, extending the lead to seven.
“He was very dialed in, very focused going into the game,” Matta said. “He had a good look in his eye. He made a couple shots early, kind of got rolling.”
Despite Buford’s 23 points, which came on an efficient 9-for-15 shooting, Matta said he was most impressed with Buford’s play on the other end of the floor.
“The biggest thing tonight was his defense. I thought William did a great job defending,” Matta said. “Chasing screens, trailing screens, whatever we asked him to do, helping. I thought he was very, very active, and that was good.”