NEW ORLEANS – A total of 73 seconds.
That’s how long William Buford sat motionless on the back of a golf cart in the recesses of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, waiting to be taken to the postgame press conference following Ohio State’s 64-62 loss to Kansas Saturday night.
The Buckeyes’ lone senior had draped a white towel over his head, his bloodshot eyes fixated on the floor. His hands – the hands with which he amassed 1,990 career points – were clasped tightly together. For 73 seconds, he was a momentary statue of anguish, oblivious to everyone from the mass of media congregated a few feet away to a stoic Jared Sullinger sitting right next to him.
Just a few minutes earlier, Buford was soaring through the air, dunking in a rebound off a missed Deshaun Thomas jumper to cut the Kansas lead to one point in the final seconds. They would be the last points of his career, forever tied with Ohio State legend Jerry Lucas on the school’s scoring chart.
Buford struggled to come to terms with the sudden end to his collegiate tenure, and his voice quietly quavered as he spoke with reporters.
“I had a pretty decent career,” he said. “I wish it would have ended a different way.”
Buford turned in perhaps the strongest performance Saturday night for the Buckeyes: 19 points on 6 of 10 shooting, 3 of 5 from 3-point range. But the team lost a 13-point first half lead, shooting just 24 percent as a team after the break.
“I’m extremely proud of Will for the way he went out,” junior forward Evan Ravenel said. “I wish we could have gone to the championship game for the perfect end to his senior year, but … I don’t know, I can’t explain it, it’s just tough.”
“We probably should have went to [Buford] a little more and that’s on me,” sophomore point guard Aaron Craft said.
It was a senior year in which Ohio State won a Big Ten regular-season title and made the Final Four, yet Buford was often maligned for his inconsistent play. In the last two months, he had three games where he scored 20 or more points, but also four in which he scored six or less.
Buford also carried heavy responsibility as the team’s lone senior, sharing a spot in the starting lineup with a quartet of sophomores. But he didn’t let the criticism of his play adversely affect his teammates.
“He never made it about himself,” Craft said. “He always kept coming back talking about the team. He was that senior leader that we needed this year.”
On Saturday night Buford was sharp, hitting shots from the perimeter and crashing the boards. He pulled in seven rebounds from the guard position.
“I knew it was my last week of college basketball,” Buford said. “I just wanted to stay in attack mode and just try to stay focused.”
The last week of his career ended earlier than he intended, but Buford fought to maintain a positive outlook as Ohio State’s tournament run came to a close.
“We didn’t listen to the doubters,” he said. “We kept on working hard and we ended up making it to the Final Four. We wish we were playing Monday, but it just didn’t work out that way.”
Buford certainly made his coach proud.
“I don’t know if I can put into words what he’s meant to this program,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “… I don’t know how many wins he ended up with in four years, but I know it was a lot.”
As it turns out, Buford was a part of 116 victories during his four years in Columbus.
In time, he’ll learn to look back on them fondly. But Saturday – at least for 73 seconds – all he could think about was one loss.