Thad Matta knew William Buford wasn’t shooting the ball particulalry well when he put the dry erase marker to the board to draw up a play that likely would have a profound impact on Ohio State’s game at Wisconsin on Feb. 4.
With the Big Ten lead on the line and his team up by one point with just over three minutes remaining in the game, Matta came up with a play that would give Buford a clean look from beyond the arc.
Buford had converted on only three of his previous 14 shots from the floor and none of his teammates made a shot from beyond the arc to that point.
“Basketball is a lot like life and when you spend a lot of time with people you develop a relationship with them, you develop a trust in them,” Matta said when discussing his decision to give Buford the shot. “I see the work he puts in all the time leading into (games) and I just felt as though Will is a guy who wants to take that shot.”
Matta’s play worked to perfection and Buford got a clean look. He set his feet, got equal push from his legs and delivered a shot that is as aesthetically pleasing as any other jumper in basketball.
The senior buried the attempt, giving the Buckeyes a four-point lead on the road with 2:27 remaining in the contest. Buford’s shot – the only three Ohio State converted on that day – turned out to be the difference in perhaps the team’s biggest conference victory to date.
“Hopefully it helped him,” Matta said. “It was a big play for us up there and he came home and played well with that. Maybe he needed a little boost of confidence, but I think that’s one thing about coaching - you develop a relationship with players and a trust. I had that with William.”
The decision to draw up the play for Buford likely would have been easier if his shooting performance that day was the only determining factor. However, the senior was in the midst of a fairly noticeable slump.
Buford’s slump wasn’t transparent when simply looking at the numbers, but the senior had been making questionable decisions at an alarming rate up until the point where he made the game-changing trey against the Badgers.
In Ohio State’s next game, Buford scored a career-high 29 points in the Buckeyes’ home win against Purdue Feb. 7, 21 of which were registered in the second half of his team’s closest conference home game in the season.
“Was I concerned about how I was playing? Absolutely not,” Buford told BuckeyeSports.com. “As long as my teammates have confidence in my and my coaches have confidence in me and keep telling me to shoot, there’s no doubt in my mind that I can do anything. I had some great looks in the last few weeks but just haven’t been able to knock them down, but there’s no reason to be concerned.”
Statistically speaking, Buford is having a rather productive season. The senior is averaging over 15 points per game in Big Ten play and only five other players in the conference – including his teammate Jared Sullinger – have score more than Buford this season.
Still, Buford’s season has left some to be desired. As the team’s leader, Buford has turned the ball over more this year – he has 31 in 11 Big Ten games – than he’s had at any other point in his career.
But as assistant coach Jeff Boals is quick to point out, Buford’s turnovers have been drastically improving as of late. The senior played all 40 minutes in Ohio State’s most recent win against Purdue and he didn’t turn the ball over once.
“I know I haven’t been playing the best I can play and I can do better,” Buford said after registering his career-high against the Boilermakers. “People are saying they’re concerned, but I am still averaging more than I ever did in my career. If they want to be concerned, that’s their problem. As long as my coaches and teammates are fine with what I am doing, I have no cares about what outsiders are talking about.”
Buford is nothing if not a streaky shooter and the crucial triple he registered against the Badgers may have started what could eventually turn his season around.
With the third-ranked Buckeyes hosting No. 11 Michigan State on Saturday in Value City Arena, Ohio State likely couldn’t have chosen a better time for the senior to be riding high on confidence.
“Confidence, regardless of who’s shooting, is a big factor in how well you shoot the ball most of the time,” sophomore point guard Aaron Craft said. “With Will, he puts the work in and we have all the confidence in the world in him to take and make just about any shot out there. Once he starts believing in himself, I think that’s when you can start seeing him play his best basketball.”
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