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Commentary: William Buford shifts role in NCAA Tournament to help Ohio State reach Final Four

Cody Cousino / Photo editor

When guard William Buford hit the game winning shot against Michigan State in the regular season finale to give the Buckeyes a share of the Big Ten title, Ohio State fans everywhere seemed to forgive him for the inconsistent performance he brought to the court throughout his senior season.

During OSU’s run to the Final Four, there hasn’t been much talk about Buford – positive or otherwise. Jared Sullinger is getting his normal superstar attention (and deservingly so), while sophomore guard Aaron Craft’s hustle and sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas’ scoring abilities have shot them into the national limelight as well.

After shouldering much criticism during the regular season in the team’s seven losses, Buford’s critics have been relatively silent, but they should be giving him some credit. For OSU’s lone senior, it’s more about what he hasn’t done rather than what he’s done.

He hasn’t tried to create his own shot repeatedly when they haven’t been falling all night. He hasn’t tossed up the 18-footers before ever taking a dribble. He hasn’t stood two feet behind the three-point and chucked up a shot with 21 seconds on the clock, before ever trying to work the ball inside.

To be harsh, he hasn’t lost any games for the Buckeyes. He’s tweaked his role and been the basketball definition of “less is more.”

I hate to compare one of OSU’s all-time leading scorers to a back-up quarterback, but in a sense, that’s what he’s become – and I mean that in a good way. Buford is a shooter, but he’s in a long, long slump. He’s not the shooter Thomas is and I think he’s realized that and I applaud him for it. Buford’s role has been to handle his responsibilities, not go out and win the game.

His work has translated into wins and a Final Four berth for the team.

Buford’s also done a lot that OSU probably wouldn’t expect after this season as well.

He pulled in nine rebounds against Syracuse in the Elite Eight round (the only time he’s had more than that this season was against Iowa with 11). He’s done what’s expected of him in steals and assists. And while he has turned the ball over a bit more than usual, it’s the Big Dance. Everyone is playing for his life out there – turnovers happen more often in high-energy games. He hasn’t made them in the crucial moments.

Buford’s shooting still isn’t what it’s capable of being. Keep in mind, after his sophomore year he could have left for the NBA and been a first-round pick. The fact that he came back to finish a four-year college career in scarlet and gray makes me proud that he’s a Buckeye.

Buford has said it himself – he’s a shooter. And that shooting ability is what has kept a defender glued to him this entire tournament and allowed Thomas and sophomore guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. to connect on so many big shots. If Buford ends up leading the offense to a national championship, it would be the best send-off a senior could ask for, and he’d be remembered as a legend in Columbus. But if he doesn’t, we should all remember the unselfish adjustments he’s made in the tournament to help his team advance this far. It takes a real man and true team-first player to make those adjustments – and in the tournament, William Buford has proved to be just that.


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