Looking at the box score from the No. 20 Michigan men’s basketball team’s win over Ohio, the best way to describe sophomore guard Kobe Bufkin’s performance is mediocre.
Bufkin finished with nine points, shooting just 3-for-10 from the field — and an even worse 1-for-6 from deep — while adding seven rebounds and four assists. On paper, it was a middling performance amongst an already unimpressive start to the season.
What the box score doesn’t show, though, is Bufkin’s game-tying layup with just over a minute left, his clutch free throws that propelled the Wolverines to an eventual overtime victory and the plethora of tough plays that he made over and over again down the stretch.
“I think it just shows toughness,” Bufkin said. “Being able to find a way to win is always important. … So, to see that we have that now, even though sometimes you don’t always want to be in those situations, sometimes it’s just good to get that experience.”
In that experience, Bufkin provided. While he’ll receive praise for making two of the biggest plays of the game, his attitude and toughness took center stage midway through the first half.
With the entire starting lineup relegated to the bench after creating an early deficit, Bufkin stood by the closest seat to the coaching staff. The four remaining starters walked further down the bench, and promptly sat.
Bufkin remained standing.
Not just for a minute or two, but for nearly the entire time that the Wolverines’ second unit stayed on the floor. When freshman forward Will Tschetter earned a trip to the free throw line, the already-on-his-feet Bufkin swung his towel over his head like a lasso.
Despite committing several mistakes down the stretch, Bufkin radiated that same energy with the game on the line as he repeatedly found himself with the ball in his hands.
“(We) really just focus on not losing,” Bufkin said. “Just trying to get the win, never want to get on a losing streak. So, just how to dig deep and win by any means possible.”
After snagging an offensive board and getting fouled with two minutes left in the second half, Bufkin missed the bonus free throw. It didn’t phase him. The next possession, Bufkin split through the lane and flipped it up and in at the rim, tying the game with just over a minute left.
When the Wolverines got the ball back, Bufkin tried to weave his way to the rim once again, this time throwing a turnover. It didn’t phase him. Seconds later, he hit a pair of free throws to give Michigan a two-point lead with two seconds left.
“That’s a pressure moment,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “You feel like you’re on an island by yourself. That’s hard. It is. It’s hard. I’m really proud to see Kobe just grew up. Not saying he hasn’t grown, but he really grew up in a moment like that because I don’t think many of us can make those shots.”
After a crazy sequence at the buzzer, Bufkin’s free throws weren’t enough for the Wolverines to finish off the Bobcats in regulation. But he brought the same intensity in overtime.
Whether it was sliding into the lane to attempt to take a charge, deflecting an Ohio pass out of bounds or feeding freshman wing Jace Howard for a pivotal 3-pointer, Bufkin was everywhere — even when his shots weren’t hitting the mark.
Granted, this performance came against the Bobcats, who aren’t the most contentious of opponents. Bufkin’s energy and clutch performance shouldn’t have been necessary to secure a win — but they were.
And Bufkin provided.