Buford Coming Into His Own

In discussing William Buford during the years, Ohio State head coach Thad Matta has often used the phrase "Will is Will." With the Buckeyes preparing to take the court today against George Mason, Buford is playing some of the best and most consistent basketball of his career.

A long-time understudy to the starring role, William Buford looks to be ready for his spotlight.

The junior guard for top-seeded Ohio State has proven himself a productive player during his three seasons for the Buckeyes. Each year has seen him climb the list of Big Ten honors: freshman of the year (2009), third-team all-conference (2010) and now second-team all-league honors this season. Along the way, he has finished as the team's second-leading scorer in each season.

It is a role that has been a comfortable one for the Toledo native, but one that he feels is changing as the Buckeyes set their sights on advancing through the NCAA Tournament.

"I've always been around big-time players and they got all the main attention so I would just stay undercover and be low-key," he said March 17, one day before the Buckeyes opened the tournament against Texas-San Antonio. "(Am I) the star? No. Under the radar? Absolutely.

"I always try to stay under the radar for some reason but hopefully in this tournament my teammates can get me in a spot where I can be big-time like (freshman forward Jared Sullinger)."

As Buford pointed out, it is national freshman of the year Sullinger that brings home most of the hardware and the accompanying attention. In discussing today's matchup with the Buckeyes (5:15 p.m., CBS), George Mason head coach Jim Larranaga said that his first preparations involved the freshman forward and then mentioned senior guard Jon Diebler.

That has been the case throughout Buford's career.

"I remember Will's freshman year when he would start the game scoring six of our first eight points and it was all matchup-predicated because they put their best defender on Jon so he couldn't shoot and their second-best defender on (Evan Turner) not to let him drive and there was Will," head coach Thad Matta said.

As OSU took 16th-seeded Texas-San Antonio out of contention early in the game Friday night, it was Buford who did much of the heavy lifting. The junior scored 15 of OSU's first 25 points including the first seven of the game. He finished with a team-high 18 points as one of four Buckeyes in double figures.

It marked his third straight game as his team's leading scorer, his longest such stretch this season. Senior forward David Lighty said Buford has been coming on strong since a Feb. 15 home contest against Michigan State in which he led the way with 23 points.

In 24 games leading up to the contest against the Spartans, Buford had led the team in scoring five times – 20.8 percent of the time. Since then, the junior has topped the scoring chart in 40.0 percent of the last 10 games. His scoring average has also picked up, increasing from 13.9 to 16.0, respectively.

However, his average of 14.5 points per game is barely ahead of his mark of 14.4 from a season ago. So why is it that it seems Buford is scoring at a much more prolific rate this year?

"I think efficient would be a great word (to describe him)," Matta said. "His game has become very efficient."

That phrase can mean a number of different things. Buford's shooting percentage is up to 47.4 percent for the season, an increase from his 43.8 percent mark a year ago. The player himself said it is more than that.

"Percentage-wise, knocking down my shots, shots that I should be knocking down," he said. "(Friday), I missed a couple shots when I was wide open that I shoot every day that I shouldn't have missed. Hopefully I'll get that corrected by (Sunday)."

Against the Roadrunners, Buford was 7 for 12 from the field. Statistically, the Toledo native said he has found he is better off shooting contested shots.

"(The coaches) had a percentage of my shooting and I shoot better when somebody is contesting my shot than when I'm wide open," he said. "I don't know (why). I guess I concentrate more when somebody's got their hand in my face. That's the only thing I can think of. (Video coordinator Kevin Kuwik) said that was the first time he had ever seen that. I guess it's unique.

Now, Matta said, a number of teams are changing assignments after timeouts and assigning primary defenders to Buford.

"This year he may be averaging around the same but he's doing a lot more with coming off ball screens, creating for people," Diebler said. "That's where you've seen a lot of growth in Will. Will can make tough shots. For him, he's just doing a better job of facilitating for people. With him doing that, it opens things up for him.

"He worked extremely hard in the offseason at becoming more efficient shooting the ball a lot and you're seeing the progress."

As the Buckeyes hope to take their next step toward a national title, they do so with an offense that involves a number of capable players. Sullinger, Buford, Diebler and Lighty all boast double-digit scoring averages.

If Buford emerges as the star during an NCAA Tournament run, it will not be the result of forcing the issue.

"Will is Will," said freshman guard Aaron Craft, echoing one of Matta's favorite phrases. "You can't really describe him. He's going to step up and make down shots when we need him to and he's an unselfish player when he needs to be."

Buckeye Sports Top Stories