COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Northwestern coach Bill Carmody was in mid-thought when he suddenly said of Ohio State’s William Buford, “I don’t know if you’d call it his team but … he’s a senior, right?”
Told that Buford was, indeed, the second-ranked Buckeyes’ only senior, Carmody muttered, “Thank God.”
Buford had career-highs of 28 points and five 3-pointers as Ohio State showed off its perimeter shooting in an 87-54 victory over Northwestern on Wednesday night in the Big Ten opener for both teams.
“I was just shooting the ball,” said Buford, who was 9 of 14 from the field including 5 of 7 on 3-pointers. “I was fortunate to knock them down because my teammates were setting great screens for me. They kept telling me to shoot.”
Next-to-last in the conference in 3-pointers at 4.8 per game, the Buckeyes hit seven in the first half to build a big lead and finished 10 for 20 from long range.
“We were saving it,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta cracked.
It wasn’t just a bunch of guys firing up shots from a distance, either. Jared Sullinger added 17 points and 14 rebounds for the Buckeyes (13-1, 1-0), who dominated the boards 49-30.
Deshaun Thomas had 16 points for Ohio State, which broke the game open with a 13-0 first-half run fueled by 3-pointers. Jordan Sibert added 12 points, all on 3s.
“Thad said at the end when we shook hands, `This was about as good as we can play,”‘ Carmody said, adding “And we had a lot to do with that.”
The conference’s top two scorers, John Shurna and Drew Crawford, had miserable games. They were held to 11 and 13 points, respectively, on a combined 9-for-30 shooting.
The loss was the 31st straight for the Wildcats (10-3) in Columbus, dating to 1977.
Even when Northwestern pared what was a 19-point lead down to 12 in the second half, the Buckeyes pulled away again and Buford led the way.
He hit four free throws in a 10-3 run — all the points coming at the line — to push the lead to 59-39 with 11:55 left. By then, a refreshed Sullinger and point guard Aaron Craft, who sat out for several minutes due to foul trouble, were back on the court and the game was well in hand for Ohio State.
With Shurna and Crawford struggling — shadowed wherever they went, taking bad shots when they did get a chance — the Buckeyes took a 41-26 halftime lead.
The pace favored the Wildcats in the early going. They pulled to a tie at 13 on Davide Curletti’s 3 at the 12:16 mark.
But the Buckeyes suddenly found the range behind the arc and the game teetered in their favor.
Sibert, just 8 for 31 on 3-pointers coming in, hit 3 of 4, as did Buford. Sibert’s 3 ignited a 13-0 rally as the Buckeyes held the Wildcats scoreless for 4:36.
Craft had smacked Sibert’s shooting hand in practice recently. Sibert said he had torn ligaments in it, but Sullinger joked that it was just “a little bruise.”
The injury certainly didn’t seem to bother him.
His four 3s and 12 points were career-highs.
“I had kind of gotten complacent in the spring and summer shooting and I didn’t work as hard as I felt I needed to,” he said. So he shot 400 or 500 extra shots per night with managers chasing down rebounds.
Matta joked that Sibert’s shooting is so much better with the injured hand that even if it required surgery, Sibert would have to play through the pain.
“We’re not going to fix it,” Matta said, laughing. “We’re going to leave it be.”
Thomas continued the spurt by hitting a short jumper before Buford nailed a 3 and then made the play of the game. Shurna muscled past the smaller Craft and broke free for a short jumper but Buford went high to block it.
That seemed to set the tone for the rest of the surge. Sibert hit another 3 and Buford followed with a perimeter jumper that was first signaled a 3 but then discounted to a two-point basket after a video review.
The lead never dropped below 11 points again as Ohio State won its 34th straight home game and stayed perfect at home against Northwestern since 1977.
Buford, who came in averaging 8 points and 4 rebounds in five previous games against Northwestern, had 13 points and 7 rebounds at halftime.
Sullinger said Buford has grown into being a leader after remaining quiet for much of his first couple of years on campus.
“Will’s doing a great job,” he said. “He’s more vocal. He’s taking on a lot more of the leadership on himself this year.”
Sibert said that with an Ohio State team that only has one senior and one junior (backup post Evan Ravenel), Buford has had a profound effect on the younger players.
“We look to Will,” he said. “He finds a way to make sure our team stays in rhythm.”
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