Buford Hopes To Come Up Big

It hasn't been easy being William Buford during the 2011-12 Ohio State basketball season. The team's lone senior is among the statistical leaders in the storied history of the program, but his final campaign has been littered with ups and downs. Coming off one a performance that could be described as the latter on Thursday, Buford hopes to shine in the Elite Eight.

It's a fair assessment to say that William Buford is glad he'll never see another Sweet 16 in his life.

At the same time, he's hoping his first career Elite Eight contest Saturday night vs. Syracuse will result in as good a performance as the regional semifinal has been bad for him in his career.

"Oooh, absolutely," he said in the Ohio State locker room Thursday night – well, Friday morning – after the Buckeyes' 81-66 win against Cincinnati. "I'm glad I got another chance to do something. Last year I didn't have another chance to do anything."

In many ways, the defining game of Buford's career remains his 2-for-16 performance last year in the Sweet 16, and he missed the last shot as the top-seeded Buckeyes fell to Kentucky's upset bid.

Last night's game didn't do much to improve his Sweet 16 résumé. Buford finished 1 for 8 from the floor with four points, upping his career total to 8 for 37 (21.6 percent) with 28 career points in three regional semifinal contests.

Such showings encapsulate the up-and-down nature of Buford's Ohio State career. Since arriving in Columbus fresh off Mr. Basketball honors at Toledo Libbey his senior season, Buford has started all but nine games in his career – impressive given the legacy of success that has surrounded Thad Matta's crew in his tenure.

In that time, Buford has accumulated 1,958 points, good for fourth in school annals and only 32 points behind no less an accomplished name as Jerry Lucas. He's also just one of four players ever at OSU to score 1,000 points, post 500 rebounds and dish out 300 assists, and he's third in both field goals and three-pointers in the record book. Buford is also a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award, given to a senior player in multiple sports who excels on and off the court.

But it's fair to say it hasn't come easy over the past 12 months. First, the Kentucky game happened, and it was impossible to find a preview story about the Buckeye team that didn't mention that rough night.

When the season began, things have been just as topsy-turvy. There have been the stunning highs – a career-high 29 points in a big February win against Purdue, 25 points and the game-winning jumper at Michigan State to clinch OSU's share of the Big Ten title – and equal lows.

Just eight points in a New Year's Eve loss at Indiana. Four points on 2-for-12 shooting in a home loss to Michigan State. Only six on the board while going 3 for 12 in a loss at rival Michigan.

"It's been kinda crazy," he said of his senior year. "It's been highs and lows."

Then there was the Cincinnati game, which fit the same script. Buford canned his only make from the field, a three-pointer, as the Bearcats took their largest lead of four points near the midway spot of the second half. Matta also went out of his way to praise Buford's defense, calling it the "best defense in his career that first 20 minutes" as he limited UC's leading scorer, Sean Kilpatrick.

On the other hand, he turned the ball over four times, one on a player control foul as he drove the lane in transition during Cincinnati's run, and even missed a dunk at one point in the Buckeye comeback.

When asked about his struggles, Buford had a few theories.

"Just sometimes not following through (on his shot)," he said. "Not getting to my spots on the floor. That's mainly what it is."

However, Buford hasn't let the occasional struggles affect him. His confidence hasn't wavered as evidenced by the way he still attacked the rim and took threes against the Bearcats even with wildly disparate results.

"You really can't press too much," he said. "It kind of frustrated you a little bit, but you can't press it too much. You just have to keep on playing. I just keep playing the same way, just trying to rebound, get some assists, get some steals, help them out in another way."

Teammates have noticed the way he's approached the situation.

"Sometimes you see players change and get down on themselves or start to doubt themselves if they have a bad game or whatnot, but Will hasn't changed a bit," guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said. "I remember prior to the Michigan State game, Will had some bad games, but lo and behold we got the ball to him and he came through in the clutch."

Buford is smart enough to know every game right now could be his last. A season ago, a rough game in the Sweet 16 meant the campaign was over. This time around, it means he's on to his deepest advancement in the NCAA tournament in his Buckeye career.

There's no question he'd like to be doing more on the statsheet to answer the critics and help the team keep the run alive, but when it all comes down to it, there's only one thing that matters.

"We've been winning," he said. "We made it farther than we made it my last three years here. That's all that matters to me."

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