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Monday, March 5, 2012

Ohio State Big Ten Champs - William Bufford Saves the Day -

William Buford is a really important player for Ohio State.

You probably already knew that, but given what we saw today and how this team has sometimes been lost without his production over the past two seasons, it’s something that can not be emphasized enough heading into conference and tournament play.
Today, Buford finished with a game-high 25-points including the game winning jumper with a second to play as the No. 10 Buckeyes downed the No 5 Michigan State Spartans 72-70 in East Lansing.
After snapping the Buckeyes 39-game home winning streak earlier in the season, the Spartans continued their dominance of Thad Matta’s club from the opening tip, building 26-9 lead just 10 minutes into the game.
It appeared that Michigan State would runaway with this one, win the Big Ten regular season title outright and build an even stronger case for an NCAA Tournament one seed. They limited Jared Sullinger, got him in foul trouble and found success pounding the ball down low.
Frankly, it looked like Sullinger’s draft stock was plummeting right before our eyes, as the three-headed monster of Draymond Green, Adrian Payne and Derrick Nix curbed the big man’s effectiveness.
Then Buford got ticked off, scoring 16 second-half points on 7-10 shooting and covering for his struggling teammate.
The game winner was a thing of beauty, too; one of those mid-range jumpers so infrequently seen in the college game. A shot that went over the outstretched hands of the Spartans’ Keith Appling
With no Jon Diebler or David Lighty around to support him on the perimeter, it’s this type of attacking mentality needed from the senior if the Buckeyes want to reach the Final Four.
Buford’s primary strength, much like North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, is his size. As a 6-6 small forward with a smooth jumper, many collegiate teams simply do not have someone at that position that can guard Buford for an entire game. When Buford is on he’s difficult to defend, but there’s been plenty of important games where he’s been a non-factor
Remember when the Kentucky Wildcats advanced to the 2011 Final Four with their upset of the Buckeyes?
Buford was a dismal 2-16 from the floor. He finished with nine points, and had to take a brunt of the blame when it came to explaining why OSU lost.
In conferences losses this season Buford has posted scoring totals less than seven points on two occasions. In conference wins he’s had games where he scored just a tick or two under 30.
Today’s victory gave the Buckeyes a firm hold on an NCAA Tournament two-seed. It also gave fans reason to believe this team can reach or exceed the pre-season expectations placed upon them.
Sullinger is important, yes, but Buford is the key.

William Buford, ladies and gentlemen
Continuing a roller coaster year, Buford capped his final regular season game in a Buckeye uniform in style with 25 points (8/14 FG, 7/11 FT) including the game winning bucket with .8 seconds left giving Ohio State a come from behind 72-70 win over Michigan State in East Lansing and a 3rd straight conference title.
Taking a hand-off from Aaron Craft on the right wing with about :04 to play, Buford dribbled to the top of the circle and unleashed a 19 foot fadeaway jumper that was as wet as your loins after the ball tickled nothing but twine, giving the senior from Toledo his 18th and 19th points of the 2nd half.
Buford's game winning rain maker was set up by a terrific defensive stand from Evan Ravenel as he forced Draymond Green to launch a tough 17 foot turnaround jumper with :24 to play and the game tied at 70. Ravenel was an absolute beast after Jared Sullinger picked up his 4th foul with 8:32 to play.
The seldom used transfer from Boston College entered for Sully and immediately went to work converting an and-1 that gave Green his 4th foul at 7:10 while tying the game at 58. Afer an MSU free throw gave Sparty a one point lead, Ravenel hit a layup off a great look from Craft and hit a pair of free throws after Derrick Nix hit two of his own to keep the Buckeyes in front at 62-61 with 4:22 to play.
The lead was short lived after two FT's from Adreian Payne but Ravenel found Thomas off a dribble drive putting the Bucks in front once more at 64-63 with 3:40 left in regulation.
OnionsA Keith Appling free throw would tie the score once more then Green went to work scoring six straight MSU points but those were offset by a putback from Sully, a clutch 17 footer from Thomas and a short baseline jumper from Craft making tying it at 70-70 with :43 on the clock.
Craft's handiwork set up Ravenel's sturdy stand on Green paving the way for Buford to put a smile on the face of all the haters, at least until next Friday when the Buckeyes begin play in the B1G tourney.
Seriously. That jumper was ice $^%@&#% cold. So splashy.
Sullinger added 14 points (5/17 FG) and 10 boards with Thomas chipping in 12 (5/12) and four.
In 40 grueling minutes, Craft did a little bit of everything with nine points, seven boards, six assists and four steals against just one turnover. In a game as hotly contested as this one, I definitely tip my cap to Craft for an outstanding effort that also saw him hold Appling to 11 points on 4/11 shooting.
It didn't look like it would come down to a last second game winner after Sparty went on a 17-2 bender to take a 24-9 lead with 10:47 left in the 1st half thanks to a combo of cold Buckeye shooting and fast break inducing turnovers.
Ohio State missed nine of their first 11 shots and turned it over five times while MSU was busy putting all five starters in the scoring column via 9/13 from the floor. Finally settling in, OSU was helped by a ton of fouls on Sparty. The Buckeyes used an 8-0 run with four points coming from the stripe to trail just 32-27 with 1:55 left in the half.
Sparty responded with back to back three point plays but Buford answered with a 17 foot jumper to make it 38-29 at the break.
The 1%Hitting just 25% from the floor in the opening 20 minutes (7/28), OSU kept within striking distance by way of 14/18 from the stripe and 12 points off 10 MSU turnovers. Sully was awful missing 8/10 shots but went 4/4 from the line for eight points while Craft added seven and WB six.
The 2nd half comeback saw the Buckeyes shoot 59% (17/24) with only four turnovers while holding Sparty to 32% on 9/28 from the field.
Green led Sparty with 19 points and 10 boards giving him his 17th dub-dub of the season against Sully's 13th.
Though the win gave the Buckeyes (25-6) a shared title (13-5) , it did nothing to improve their seeding in the conference tourney. In the #3 slot, they'll play the winner of the Purdue/Nebraska tilt on Friday around 9pm. Holla if you'll be in attendance - we'll be courtside.
I'm in a hurry to hit the Black Keys but again, props to WB for stepping up large and also to Ravenel for his spectacular stint with the game in the balance.
It's a good day to be a Buckeye.

First Thoughts From an Improbable 72-70 Win at Michigan State

By Tony Gerdeman

It's hard to write something called "First Thoughts" when you can barely collect them to begin with.
With their performances over the last few weeks, the Buckeyes really had no business being in this game, let alone winning it. When they played like they did in the first half, it wasn't any surprise at all.
Even when they came back to cut it to a couple of possessions, I had never completely bought in. I still expected a double-digit loss. It was just what I had been conditioned to expect.
But once they finally tied the game and traded basket for basket, it was clear that I wasn't watching the same team that I had seen of late. This was a different team. This was the team that we had seen earlier in the year. This was the team that people have been wanting to see for a month or more.
And clearly, this was not the team that Michigan State was expecting to encounter. I'm pretty sure they thought they threw a knockout punch when they had a 15-point lead midway through the first half.
I no longer have any idea what to expect from this team, unless I decide to expect the opposite from now on.
What I do know, however, is that this game could not have happened at a better time. Ohio State gets their confidence back in their final regular season game, and they win a Big Ten Championship to boot.
Not a bad Sunday for a team that many, me included, had written off.

First Thought

William Buford has taken his fair share of grief this season, but when his team needed him most, he put everything behind him and produced like the best player on the court.
His game-winner was his only made shot in the final eight minutes of the game, but he had no hesitation when his number was called.
He finished the second half 7-10 from the field, which included all manner of clutch shots. He scored 25 points, and was the William Buford that enables the Buckeyes to beat anybody they play.

Evan-ly Thought

Without Evan Ravenel's tremendous Jared Sullinger impersonation, the Buckeyes don't win this game.
With Sullinger in foul trouble in the second half, Ravenel got some very important minutes, and he did as much with them as anybody could possibly do.
He scored seven points with two rebounds and two assists in eight minutes. However, for about a three-minute stretch he was the focus of the Ohio State offense, and that offense performed admirably.
Then late in the game, tied at 70-70, he was called upon to defend Draymond Green, and he did it very well. Green forced up a bad fadeaway miss, and the Buckeyes came away with the rebound.
Like Buford, Ravenel has taken his share of shots from the fans this year, but everybody got a long look at the reasons why Thad Matta has had so much faith in him.

Complete Thought

Aaron Craft played all 40 minutes in this game. He scored nine points, grabbed seven rebounds, handed out six assists, came up with four steals and only turned it over once.
He was also a large reason why Michigan State's Keith Appling was only 4-11 from the field.
I also don't want to forget to mention his bail-out jumper to tie it late.
The Buckeyes could have easily quit in the first half, but Craft would have been hustling and fussing until the final whistle. He led this team today in the way he approached the game. It was a 40-minute battle, and he wasn't going to give up one minute sooner.
And his team followed him every step of the way.

Early Thought

The passing early in the game was terrible, which is why it was almost miraculous that the Buckeyes only turned it over ten times today.
Everything was rushed. Shots were rushed, screens were rushed. Everybody was in a hurry to go absolutely nowhere.
They had three turnovers in the opening minutes, and were stifled by the Spartan defense for much of the first half. They seemed to have no answers.
I don't know how they came back the way they did, other than the fact that they did it minute by minute, and didn't impossibly try to do it all at once.
Perhaps they learned a lesson in patience today. Running is nice, but slow and steady still wins the race.
But I still can't believe they actually did it.

Sullied Thought

Jared Sullinger's struggles lately have to have him thinking about his readiness for the NBA.
However, most of his troubles are because of his height and athleticism, and neither are going to improve. He can do more with his game, but he won't get to do it playing center in college when he's an NBA power forward.
Thad Matta would probably have to promise him that he can play the four next year, and Amir Williams would play the five next to him, which Matta would do. At least in that case, Williams would be there to rebound on the weak side.
Sullinger will certainly have a decision to make, assuming he hasn't already made it.
Basically, I don't know that he's ready for the NBA, but he's also not going to get any more ready than he already is.

Final Thought

I really can't say enough about the lack of quit in this team tonight, but more important than the lack of quit was the amount of calm.
This was a fantastic game to watch, and the Buckeyes looked like a group that was packed with seniors, instead of a team with just one.
I expected the situation to become too big for them, and they proved me wrong every time. The team that we saw today can absolutely do some damage in the NCAA Tournament, and now the Buckeyes know it too.

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