Buford Getting Offensive With His Defense

Plenty of freshmen struggle with their ability to play defense in college, and William Buford has been no different. But as the season goes on, the Toledo, Ohio, native has shown that he can be counted on down the stretch on both sides of the court.

His defense might have been a walking punch line among the Ohio State roster, but William Buford's performance of late has been no laughing matter.

After being inserted into the starting lineup two games after David Lighty suffered a fractured foot, the freshman guard from Toledo, Ohio, has made the most of his first extended opportunities for playing time.

Through the first 15 games of the season, Buford has elevated himself to third on the team's scoring list, coming in at 10.3 points per contest. In the seven games he has started, Buford has scored 11 or more points in six of them.

But the fact that Ohio's reigning Mr. Ohio Basketball can fill the net has not caught his teammates or coaches by surprise. Instead, the focus has been on his defense – or lack thereof upon his arrival in Columbus.

"The other day I told him you'd better start playing defense or we're going to lose," sophomore guard Evan Turner said with a laugh. "Coming from his atmosphere, which I hear coach joke about all the time, he never really had to play defense. Right now he has to and he's learning."

That growing ability to comprise one spot in OSU's 3-2 match-up zone defense has enabled head coach Thad Matta to reward Buford with more playing time. Some of it is also due to Lighty's absence: in seven games with Lighty, Buford averaged 15.4 minutes per game.

Since then, Buford is seeing nearly double that at 30.3 minutes per game. Despite the necessity of playing him so much, Matta said he would not be seeing so much action if he had not started grasping the concept of playing defense in college.

While watching tape of the team's loss to Minnesota, Matta said he noticed Buford running back on defense but perhaps not putting as much effort into it as he could. The next time on the court, things were a little different.

"We maybe guide him gently to do the right thing," Matta said.

Buford himself admitted that he has had to adjust to playing defense after primarily being relied upon to score in high school.

"I played it sometimes, but I wasn't really focusing myself on playing defense," he said. "I was concentrating on scoring and helping my team win. Now it's different."

Following the team's win against UNC Asheville on Dec. 22, Matta cited one defensive play by Buford as a sign that he is maturing as a defender.

"Tonight William Buford got a floor burn," Matta said. "He dove for a loose ball. That was something we talked to him the other day, he didn't dive for a loose ball and Iona ends up scoring. He's never had a floor burn in his life.

"He came into the timeout and he was grimacing and I said, ‘Doesn't that feel good?' He said, ‘Not really.' I said, ‘I don't care, you've got to do it anyway.' "

Buford's initial struggles are not uncommon for freshmen under Matta. Learning what is expected on defense is usually the quickest path to seeing playing time for the Buckeyes. That has made players such as Turner quick to try and get Buford on board so they can take advantage of his obvious scoring abilities.

"I told Will we really need him, especially after Dave Lighty got hurt," Turner said. "Over the summer Will played good and you could see his talent and his potential. I just told him to keep working hard and things will pay off, which it has."

Turner's tutelage is particularly beneficial because he found himself in a similar situation last season. A player with obvious offensive talents, Turner came off the bench to average 3.9 points per game in his first seven collegiate games.

He would finish the year fifth on the team with an average of 8.5 points per contest, twice eclipsing the 20-point mark.

This season, Buford sits fourth in the Big Ten in scoring among freshmen. He is enjoying a three-game streak of being the team's top scorer, and has tied for top-scoring honors two other times this season.

"I had a lot of extra individual skill work like Will is doing (right now)," Turner said. "I had a lot of confidence from my teammates. I had no other choice but to play, so I might as well play good."

Words that Buford has apparently taken to heart.

"My coaches always tell me to take better shots," he said. "I wasn't trying to force anything. I was just trying to take open shots and my teammates were able to get me the ball when I was open.

"I just want to go in the gym and keep working hard and try to get better."

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