William Buford could have played for any college he wanted to coming out of Libbey High School in Toledo, Ohio in 2008. Every major program showed interest in Buford, a 6-foot-5 guard and one of the nation’s top recruits. But Buford didn’t wait long to make his decision. He committed to Ohio State before his junior season began and never wavered.
Now 29 and a seven-year professional basketball veteran, Buford is still associated with Ohio State. And on Tuesday night, playing for a Buckeyes’ alumni team known as Carmen’s Crew in The Basketball Tournament’s championship game, he represented the school with aplomb.
Buford’s two free throws clinched his squad’s 66-60 victory over the Golden Eagles, a group of former Marquette players. Carmen’s Crew not only won the title. It also earned the $2 million that’s awarded to the champion, to be split among the team’s roster. Buford’s share was $200,000.
The victory was especially special for Carmen’s Crew considering it fell short the previous two years in TBT, which has a 64-team field and single-elimination format patterned after the NCAA tournament. The team, which was known as Scarlet & Gray before changing its name this year, lost in double overtime in the 2017 semifinals and got crushed by 22 points last summer to a team that had former BYU All-American and NBA player Jimmer Fredette.
Still, Carmen’s Crew was considered a title contender this summer, although the event had been dominated by Overseas Elite, a group of professional players that had won the previous four TBTs. On Sunday afternoon, Carmen’s Crew became the first team in TBT history to defeat Overseas Elite, pulling off a 71-66 upset.
Tuesday’s game was just as close, with neither team leading by more than single digits. TBT has a quirky rule called the “Elam Ending,” in which the clock shuts off following the first dead ball after the four-minute mark in the fourth quarter. The officials then set a so-called target score by adding eight points to the leading team’s score.
On Tuesday, Carmen’s Crew led 58-57, so the first team to 66 would win. The Golden Eagles made a three-pointer to go ahead 60-58, but they never scored again. Jeff Gibbs, a former Division III national player of the year and the only member of Carmen’s Crew not to have played at Ohio State, connected on two free throws and a layup, while Jon Diebler stole the ball and laid it in for a 64-60 lead. Buford then drew a foul and calmly made both free throws for the victory.
“I’ve been preparing for that moment for a long time, shooting some game-winning free throws,” Buford told ESPN sideline reporter Jen Hale after the game. “They came through. My teammates had faith in me, and I knocked them down.”
David Lighty led Carmen’s Crew with 17 points, while Buford finished with 14 and averaged a team-high 17.8 points in the team’s six games. Buford didn’t miss a free throw all tournament. Diebler and Gibbs added 11 points apiece.
Lighty and Diebler were seniors on the 2011 squad that went 34-3 and was the No. 1 seed in the East Regional before losing in the Sweet 16. Buford, meanwhile, was a senior in 2012 when the Buckeyes lost to Kansas in the Final Four.
On Tuesday night, the Buckeyes’ alumni finally won the final game of a tournament. After making the winning free throw, Buford turned and raised both arms in the air as teammate Aaron Craft hugged him. Queen’s “We are the Champions” blared on the loudspeakers, and confetti fell on the floor.
“It’s always great to win with my brothers,” Buford told Hale. “I wouldn’t rather do it with anybody else. I love these guys to death.”