Buford burns Michigan St., shows he’s essential to Ohio State’s hopes

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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.

Follow Nick Fasulo on Twitter @billyedelinSBN.