If William Buford was playing poor basketball in the recent weeks, everyone was aware of it but him. When the third-ranked Ohio State basketball team needed him to play his best, the senior just did what he thought he was already doing.
He was leading the Buckeyes. And more importantly – he was scoring.
Though Ohio State had two starters on the bench late in a close game against Purdue Tuesday night, Buford boosted the Buckeyes past the Boilermakers 87-84 en route to scoring a career-high 29 points.
“People were worried about me? Really? I thought I was playing just fine,” Buford told BSB moments after the game. “Maybe I wasn’t playing my best basketball, but I thought I was doing alright. It is nice to have a big game like this, though. I am happy I was there for my team when they needed me.”
Buford scored 21 of his points in the second half for the Buckeyes (21-3, 9-2), while knocking down a barrage of buckets late with All-America big man Jared Sullinger and sophomore point guard Aaron Craft on the bench with foul trouble.
The Buckeyes found themselves tied at 73 with roughly five minutes remaining in the game, but Buford made three-consecutive shots in just over 1½ minutes to help the Buckeyes regain control. Ohio State achieved an 80-73 advantage on a Buford three with 2:54 remaining, causing the Value City Arena crowd explode when the Buckeyes finally created some distance between themselves and the visitors.
Though Purdue (15-9, 5-6) fought back to cut Ohio State’s lead to four twice in the final 1:07 of the game, Robbie Hummel’s three in the last seconds of the game did nothing but cut the Boilermakers’ deficit to three.
It was a game like this the fans were waiting to see out of Buford. Ohio State coach Thad Matta never needed to witness this performance to know what Buford was capable of.
The senior, however, said he was glad to settle any doubt that remained while boosting the Buckeyes to their 39th-consecutive win at home – a streak that’s been alive since losing to Purdue two years ago in Value City Arena.
“I haven’t ever worried about Will,” Matta admitted. “Maybe not every shot’s been falling for him. You know we want him to shoot and make them, but you look at him and everything he’s done here. I’ve got confidence in him and I’ll never lose it.”
Sullinger finished the game with 18 points and Deshaun Thomas and Craft both added 13 points for the Buckeyes, which have now won six-straight Big Ten games and could be on their way to taking control of the conference race.
Backed by a career-high 24 points from D.J. Byrd – who scored 17 of those in the first half while helping the Boilermakers play the Buckeyes to a tie at 40 at halftime – Purdue continued to contend until the late moments in the game with hot shooting.
Purdue shot 51.9 percent from the field, including 11 of 19 from beyond the arc, keeping Ohio State from creating separation at any point in the game.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Craft made back-to-back three-pointers during a 12-0 run in the first half that helped the Buckeyes achieve a 36-25 lead with 3:38 until the break. However, Purdue outscored Ohio State 15-4 to force the halftime tie.
Ohio State will play No. 11 Michigan State at home on Saturday for what is setting up to be the third game in as many weekends that will determine the conference leader.
Despite trailing in the second half for the first time in the last 21 home games, the Buckeyes made the plays late down the stretch to keep itself atop the Big Ten standings.
“We did what we needed to do to win the game tonight,” Matta said. “That’s always encouraging to see.”
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