Cody Cousino / Photo editor
Following the Ohio State men’s basketball team’s 56-51 loss against Michigan Saturday, sophomore guard Aaron Craft noticed something about senior guard William Buford, who had his worst game of the season with six points on 3-of-12 shooting.
“You can sense a little bit more sense of urgency with him. I think he understands he has 80 minutes left in this gym, and that’s definitely eye-opening for him,” Craft said.
The lone senior on the OSU roster, Buford had two home games, or 80 minutes, remaining as a Buckeye entering Tuesday night’s game against Illinois. He put the first 40 of those minutes to good use, tallying 17 points and shooting 7-of-9 from the floor as the Buckeyes dismantled the Fighting Illini, 83-67.
Buford said he didn’t dwell on his disappointing performance against the Wolverines.
“I just tried to come in and not make the same mistakes that I did last time,” Buford said. “(Tuesday) we were getting easy shots and we were able to knock them down. My bigs were screening great for me, we had a great pace to us today and we were just getting great shots.”
Coach Thad Matta said he talked to Buford about focusing on his shot selection.
“Just have a gauge in your mind of what’s a good one and what’s a great one,” Matta said.
Buford has shown the ability to bounce back from tough shooting outings before. After going 4-of-15 at Wisconsin on Feb. 4, Buford recorded a 10-of-17 performance Feb. 7 against Purdue. He shot 10-of-17 at Minnesota on Feb. 14 after shooting a dismal 2-of-12 three days earlier in a home loss to Michigan State.
As he prepares for his final 40 home minutes as a Buckeye this Sunday against Wisconsin, Buford plans to maintain that level of performance and cement an already-growing legacy at OSU.
Tuesday’s victory was No. 108 for Buford in his career as a Buckeye, and with three more wins he will move into second place all-time in OSU history behind David Lighty, who recorded 129 victories with the Buckeyes from 2007-2011.
Buford now has 1,846 career points, ranking sixth in OSU history. As long as he stays healthy, Buford should have little trouble cracking the top 4 by season’s end, and it’s even possible he could challenge Dennis Hopson’s school record of 2,096 points.
A championship game berth in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments would result in 13 more games for the Buckeyes, meaning Buford would need to average just less than 20 points per game the rest of the season to overtake Hopson. Buford’s season average is 15.1 points.
With the Buckeyes a lock to make the national tournament, Buford will become the only player in OSU history to play in the NCAA Tournament four years in a row. Brian Brown, Will Dudley and Boban Savovic accomplished the feat from 1998-2002, but all tournament records from those seasons were vacated due to rules violations under former coach Jim O’Brien.
Even with the success on the court, Matta said he has been more impressed with Buford’s growth as a person.
“You look at the time that he’s been here, I’d probably look more at the personal development than the basketball development,” Matta said. “It’s quite an honor. You spend four years with a guy and you know, you definitely hate to see him go.”
Buford said his final home game will “absolutely” have a special meaning for him.
“I love it here, I’ve been here for four years,” he said. “It’s going to be real special for me. You know I’m probably not going to come to grips with it that day, but it’s going to be kind of crazy to think that this is going to be my last time playing here.”
Opening tip between the Badgers and Buckeyes is set for 4 p.m. Sunday.