After Sunday's 76-63 loss at Purdue, it's becoming more obvious that the second-most important player on the Ohio State basketball team is William Buford.
The junior guard was coming off two consecutive 20-point performances against Michigan State (23) and in the loss at Wisconsin (21). His effort against MSU was the fourth time he'd led OSU in scoring this season. He'd also scored in double figures in six consecutive Big Ten games, going into Sunday.
But picking up two fouls in the first 2:45 at Purdue, Buford never got into a rhythm. He scored just seven points, hitting 1 of 5 from the field. His contribution was magnified by the miserable day of senior David Lighty, who hit 2 of 9 from the field and 5 of 10 from the free throw line.
Buford had taken his game to the next level against Michigan State and Wisconsin, making it even more likely that he could leave for the NBA after this season. The Buckeyes needed Buford against the Boilermakers.
Other thoughts from the game:
* The game was ripe for the taking when the score was stuck for seemingly an eternity at 56-46. But the Buckeyes repeatedly turned the ball over. Point guard Aaron Craft's foot touched the baseline and later he threw it away on an inbounds play. After a Craft steal, Jon Diebler missed and another Buckeye shot was blocked by E'Twan Moore. Lighty was also called for walking during that stretch. Although OSU eventually cut the gap to 65-61 with 2:34 left on a Jared Sullinger layup, the game was literally lost several minutes earlier.
* Craft and Lighty are two of the Big Ten's best defenders, yet Moore torched them for 38 points, hitting 13 of 18 from the field and 5 of 7 from the line. The guy was unconscious and probably would have gotten more against a lesser team. Perhaps such an effort wouldn't happen on a neutral court, but it does seem somewhat alarming considering who was guarding him.
* I continue to be amazed at the lack of involvement 0f Diebler, who scored 11 points but took just six shots. He contributed 12 points against Michigan State. But he seems like an afterthought in the OSU offense. Is he having trouble getting open? Just wondering.
* Sullinger may have learned another valuable lesson against Purdue when he was frequently triple-teamed in the second half and had the ball swatted away when he put it on the floor. One of those came when OSU had cut the deficit to 56-51. Another time his shot was blocked on a triple-team. I'm sure NCAA foes will be pouring over that film. He still managed 25 points and six rebounds despite some foul trouble.
* OSU is a seven-man team and now that number appears to have shrunken to six. Freshman Deshaun Thomas had been playing sparingly, then went scoreless, missing all six field goal attempts against Purdue. Whereas I once thought free throw shooting would be the Buckeyes' Achilles heel, that seems to have improved (23 of 29 at Purdue). Now it could be lack of depth.
On other sports:
* I hope someone tells James Harrison about the details of the death of former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson. Duerson committed suicide, but shot himself in the chest rather than the head, leaving text messages for his family requesting that his brain be examined for disease.
Duerson reportedly believed he might have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, linked to depression, dementia and occasionally suicide in former NFL players. Duerson became familiar with the disease from serving on an NFLPA committee that determined disability for ex-players.
Even at the Super Bowl, Steelers linebacker Harrison was feeling picked on by the league, which fined him more than $100,000 last season for helmet-to-helmet hits, including one on Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi. Before losing the championship to the Packers, Harrison said many players tackled the same way he did and escaped without being fined.
The league does have player safety in mind with last season's emphasis on helmet-to-helmet hits. But chances are Duerson's death won't change Harrison's mind on the issue. When I mentioned the disease discovered in the brain of late Bengals receiver Chris Henry to Browns linebacker David Bowens, he'd heard nothing about it.
* Flipped over for the final 25 laps of the Daytona 500 and enjoyed the celebration following 20-year-old Trevor Bayne's victory. How many times has the winning driver's mother been interviewed on television? I'd guess maybe never before.
* For the second consecutive event, Stow's Ben Curtis turned in his best score in the final round to move up the leaderboard. This time he carded a 67 to finish tied for 12th in the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. Curtis did the same in the Dubai Desert Classic, not a sanctioned PGA Tour event, with a final-round 69 to finish 15th. It bodes well for Curtis, whose game normally heats up in the summer months.