Jared Sullinger, William Buford and the bond that transcends injury and TBT loss
There was more on the line than a shot at $1 million inside the Covelli Center on Tuesday night.
It was early in the third quarter as Carmen’s Crew was cruising with a double-digit lead against The Money Team in the third round of The Basketball Tournament when the player William Buford was guarding feinted a backdoor cut. Buford, who had 15 points in only 14 minutes of playing time, planted his left foot in anticipation only to feel it twist underneath his weight.
Just like that, his night was over. And before long, so was Carmen’s Crew’s shot at a second TBT title in three years with a 91-89 loss.
Could Buford have possibly played through the injury? After the game, he walked around the arena with essentially no limp and without crutches. The former Ohio State player might have considered it, but the guy in charge of his playing time had a bigger picture in mind.
“Being a head coach of a TBT team, you’ve got to take into consideration that these guys make more money from September to March than they’re going to with this one lump sum of cash if we won six games,” Carmen’s Crew coach Jared Sullinger said. “My biggest thing was health was most important. As crazy as we wanted to win that game, and as great as that game would’ve been for us to win, his health was most important.”
When Buford checked out of the game with 5:59 to play in the third quarter, Carmen’s Crew led by 10 points. It pushed the lead to 18 by the end of the quarter and still led by 10 with 1:40 until the start of the Elam Ending before The Money Team mounted its comeback.
With Carmen’s Crew faltering, Buford sat on the bench with an athletic band looped around his left foot, constantly stretching it and trying to keep it loose just in case he could go back into the game.
“I twisted my ankle really bad,” he said. “I was trying to (stretch it out), but Sully didn’t want to risk it so he just let me sit out.”
Buford, who has played professionally since leaving Ohio State in 2012, spent last season playing in Turkey. While with the Buckeyes, he was teammates with Sullinger for two seasons, reaching the 2012 Final Four together when he was a senior and Sullinger was a sophomore.
From the bench, Buford said he could see the game changing.
“They had great intensity,” he said. “We started turning the ball over, they started getting offensive rebounds, we were giving them open looks, they were getting backdoors. They just wanted it more than us in the second half and they showed it.”
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Asked how much the game changed without Buford on the court, Sullinger said, "Tremendously." In three TBT games this year, Buford averaged 16.0 points and shot 57.6% (19 for 33) from the floor.
It was a tough reality for Buford to accept while remaining powerless to affect the outcome. So while Buford might have wanted to return and move Carmen’s Crew within three games of the TBT title, “I wasn’t going to allow him to do that, especially with him being hurt,” Sullinger said. “TBT, as fun as it is, it’s just not worth it for Will.”
Sullinger said the plan is for Carmen’s Crew to return to the event next year, but it will have roster spots to fill. Jon Diebler and Aaron Craft announced their plans to retire from the event, and more changes could be on the way in an effort for the team to get younger.
Buford said he hopes to return and write a different ending.
“We gave that one away,” he said. “It’s always tough not being able to help my brothers out there to get the victory, but hopefully we come back next year and try to win it.”