William Buford couldn’t emphasize enough how much he wanted to put the past behind him. In No. 6 Ohio State’s 78-68 victory over Minnesota in Williams Arena on Tuesday night, Buford didn’t waste much time getting to work.
Coming off a poor 2-of-12 shooting performance in the Buckeyes’ loss to Michigan State on Saturday – a game the senior admitted he couldn’t wait to forget – Buford helped Ohio State get back on the winning track with a performance that culminated with 24 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
Buford, who scored Ohio State’s first seven points before scoring 10 in the first four minutes of the game, helped the Buckeyes (22-4, 10-3) regain sole possession of first place in the Big Ten by a half game. Michigan State will have a chance to move back into a tie with Ohio State atop the conference standings if it beats Wisconsin at home on Thursday night.
Jared Sullinger had 23 points and eight rebounds and Deshaun Thomas had 12 points and four boards for the Buckeyes. Minnesota forward Rodney Williams, who scored 21 points, and Julian Welch, who had 11 points and nine assists, were the Gophers’ top performers.
Ohio State, a team that was coming off a humbling loss to the Spartans, looked to be poised to blow Minnesota (17-9, 5-8) out of its own gym in the first half.
A Lenzelle Smith Jr. free throw helped capped a 20-0 scoring run for Ohio State, who built a lead as high as 21 points in the first 15 minutes of the game. Minnesota fought back with a 12-1 run to get back within 10 with less than a minute remaining until halftime.
Ohio State, however, took the 12-point lead into the locker room after Buford knocked down a contested baseline jumper that was launched over the backboard and fell into the hoop. That marked as the only basket the Buckeyes made in the final 5½ minutes of the first half, a span in which Ohio State missed all four of its attempts from long range.
The Buckeyes extended its lead to 17 quickly in the second half when sophomore point guard Aaron Craft hit a jumper and Thomas knocked down a three. The two teams continued to trade buckets for the next three minutes before the Buckeyes went on a four-minute scoring drought that helped Minnesota get within nine at 53-44 at the 12:02 mark.
Ohio State went on a 9-4 run from there – a spurt where Buford made seven of those points – and the senior extended the Buckeyes’ lead to 62-48 with a trey with 7:29 remaining in the game.
Minnesota, a team searching for a signature win to impress the NCAA Tournament committee, wouldn’t get closer than eight, something it did twice in the final 1½ minutes of the game.
Ohio State is next in action on Saturday when it travels to Ann Arbor to take on No. 17 Michigan on the road. Three of the Buckeyes’ final five games are on the road, including the season finale against Michigan State in East Lansing on March 4.
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