COLUMBUS - While leading Libbey on a terrific four-year run that ended with an appearance in the Division II state championship game, William Buford was called on to do primarily one job, and do it better than anyone else.
He was a strong rebounder who could also set up his teammates, but above all else, the Cowboys needed Buford to score. And score and score and score.
And he did.
The 6-foot-5 Buford averaged 23 points per game as a senior and was honored as the top player in the state with the Mr. Basketball award. He had averaged 28 points per game as a junior at Libbey.
The three-time City League player of the year had 29 points in that state title game his senior year, which ended in a 70-69 loss to Chillicothe, but he gave everyone here at Ohio State's Value City Arena a preview of coming attractions.
Buford joined the Buckeyes in the fall of 2008 and started the process of morphing into a more complete player. That progression was accelerated when junior David Lighty, Ohio State's most experienced player, broke his foot and missed 26 games last season.
"With the injury to David, we asked William to do quite a bit as a freshman and to play a lot more minutes than he might have originally expected," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "And William really responded. He gave us everything we asked for because that's the kind of player he is."
Buford played almost 30 minutes per game last season, scored better than 11 points per game and had almost four rebounds per game. That earned him Big Ten freshman of the year honors.
As the improved and more experienced Buckeyes worked through their nonconference schedule this season, their lineup took another major jolt when All-American Evan Turner crashed to the deck on a dunk in a game against Eastern Michigan, breaking two bones in his back.
With Turner sidelined, a huge gap was opened in the Buckeyes' production line, since the 6-7 Turner had been playing point guard for Ohio State and had become a prolific scoring/rebounding/assist man.
"When Evan got hurt, I think we all felt like we had to do more, everywhere on the court," Buford said. "One guy wasn't going to take up the slack, so we all had to do it."
Buford embraced that role immediately, scoring 16 points and adding 10 assists against Eastern Michigan and starting a string of 10 straight games where he scored in double figures. He averages 13.1 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game.
"William has always been a team player, and I've never seen it illustrated any better than when they really started counting on him," said Leroy Bates, who coached Buford at Libbey. "When Evan went down, William stepped up everything he did. When people need to count on him, they can count on him."
Buford had a season-high 20 points against Butler in the first game without Turner in the lineup and then posted a 16-point, 13-rebound performance against Michigan five games later.
The Buckeyes, who play at West Virginia tomorrow in the first of a dozen games that remain in the regular season, are 14-5 overall and 4-3 in the Big Ten.
"Things move really fast at this point in the season," Buford said, "and I just want to do everything I can to help my team compete for a championship and then get ready for the Big Ten tournament. I feel good. I think my defense has gotten better, I've improved strength-wise, and I'm going to the basket more. I've really been focused on practice because if you practice hard, that's the way you'll play."
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While leading Libbey on a terrific four-year run that ended with an appearance in the Division II state championship game, William Buford was called on to do primarily one job, and do it better than anyone else. He was a strong rebounder who could also set up his teammates, but above all else, the Cowboys needed Buford to score. And score and score and score.