COLUMBUS - Michigan entered yesterday's Big Ten game against Ohio State with the intention of forming a human corral around the Evan Turner.
Somebody else would have to beat the Wolverines, but it was not going to be Turner, a strong candidate for national player-of-the-year honors who had averaged about 25 points in Ohio State's three most recent outings.
It was going to be William Buford.
The Libbey graduate exacted a toll each time Michigan triangulated its defense to surround Turner, and Buford took on the lead role in Ohio State's 66-55 win that moves the Buckeyes a step closer to a potential Big Ten championship.
Buford scored 24 points and had nine rebounds, hitting all three shots from outside the arc, and nine of his 15 field goal attempts. Michigan coach John Beilein winced over the outcome, since his team picked its poison.
"We tried to get the ball out of Turner's hands, but unfortunately, they found Buford too many times," Beilein said. "They are just so talented - you have to give up something."
The win puts the Buckeyes at 13-4 in the Big Ten, and just percentage points behind Purdue (12-3), which hosts Michigan State (11-4) today. Ohio State has just one regular season game left - here Tuesday against Illinois.
"I've never been a guy that thought a lot about a conference championship along the way - let's just play the next game," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said, while acknowledging that he will have more than a passing interest in the Purdue - Michigan State matchup. "I'm just very proud of where we are today."
Ohio State (23-7) jumped on the Wolverines early as Michigan opened the game by missing its first five shots, and seven of its first eight. Those struggles helped make it possible for the Buckeyes to build a nine-point lead less than three minutes into the first half.
Michigan was still down by nine, 23-14, with about seven minutes left in the half after Buford scored on a baseline cut and feed from Turner, who was triple-teamed in the lane.
The Wolverines put together a 12-2 run after that, with a couple of 3-pointers from Stu Douglass and one from Zack Novak. Michigan got its first lead at 26-25 on a Novak layup with 3:38 to play in the half, and was up 33-32 at the break.
The Buckeyes started to build some momentum early in the second half, and led 43-37 with about 14 minutes left in the game after Buford scored on the break. A couple of minutes later, the lead was up to 10 after a lob and dunk by Dallas Lauderdale.
Michigan, which won the first meeting with Ohio State this season in Ann Arbor by a 73-64 score, got within seven points three times down the stretch, but the Buckeyes quickly answered.
Ohio State, which started 1-3 in the Big Ten and then won nine straight conference games, got 18 points and 11 rebounds from Turner, and 14 points from Lauderdale, to complement Buford's efforts.
"I had a lot of good looks out there today," said Buford, a three-time City League player of the year. "My teammates were able to get me the ball, and I was feeling it. I was able to knock down shots."
Matta said Buford, a sophomore who is averaging about 14 points per game this season, was ready to utilize the opportunities every time Michigan clamped down on Turner.
"The No. 1 thing I saw with Will was that he had great shot preparation and he got great drive in his legs," Matta said. "Will is Will - he just loves the game of basketball. He played well offensively, and our guys just found him."
Michigan (13-15, 6-10) was led by Zack Novak, DeShawn Sims, and Darius Morris with 11 points each. Manny Harris, who averages 18.4 points, was held to 1-of-8 shooting from the field and 10 points.
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Michigan entered Saturday's Big Ten game against Ohio State with the intention of forming a human corral around the Evan Turner. Somebody else would have to beat the Wolverines, but it was not going to be Turner, a strong candidate for national player-of-the-year honors who had averaged about 25 points in Ohio State's three most recent outings.