Game Recap: Paul has historic night in Illini upset over Buckeyes

Before Tuesday’s matchup with Ohio State, Illinois head coach Bruce Weber sent Brandon Paul a text simply saying it was his night to shine. Paul later proved his coach right.

Paul scored a career-high 43 points, including Illinois’ final 15 points, in a 79-74 upset of No. 5 Ohio State at the Assembly Hall.

The win marked the first time in three years Illinois defeated the Buckeyes at home.

“It was a ‘Tebow’ moment for Brandon, there’s no doubt about that,” Weber said, referring to Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow’s game-winning overtime pass in the NFL playoffs. “It was a special game and just like the overtime touchdown pass, Brandon had the couple big shots down the stretch, which broke their back and gave us a huge chance for a huge win.”

With the score tied at 66 and two minutes remaining, Paul hit a 3-pointer to give the Illini (15-3, 4-1) the lead.

At the other end of the floor, sophomore All-American Jared Sullinger hit a shot and was fouled, but missed the free throw.

Paul then hit pair of free throws, but DeShaun Thomas responded with a layup to bring the Buckeyes within one.

But as was common on the night, Illinois would go back to Paul for a big shot, and he delivered his eighth 3-pointer of the game to give Illinois the 74-70 lead with 43 seconds remaining.

“I was laughing a couple of times,” Paul said. “But, you know, after the first few threes, like four, I was just like, ‘I’m gonna keep shooting.'”

Paul then showed off his defensive abilities as well, getting a late block to help preserve Illinois’ lead.

“He’s been our leader by far in (defense),” Weber said. “He’s dominated there, so he does a lot of good things for us in a lot of ways.”

Sullinger would not be denied, however. With 26 seconds left, he cut Illinois’ lead to two. Ohio State then fouled Paul when he crossed half court. He sank both free throws to all but seal the victory.

With little hope remaining for the Buckeyes, freshman Tracy Abrams forced a turnover and Paul was fouled again.

After Paul hit both free throws, Aaron Craft made a layup for Ohio State, which led to the Buckeyes fouling on the inbounds. Paul, who was 13-for-15 on the night from the charity stripe, then netted his final point of the game.

In the end, Paul was responsible for more than half of his team’s points and had a game-high eight rebounds.

Paul’s 43 points are the most by an Illini in 21 years and third highest in history. Dave Downey scored 53 points against Indiana in 1963 and Andy Kaufman had 46 against Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1990.

Paul is also the first Big Ten player to score more than 40 points in a game since 1994, when Glenn Robinson scored 49 points for Purdue while Weber was an assistant coach for the Boilermakers.

Thomas had a team-high 23 points for the Buckeyes, and Sullinger added 21 on 9-of-16 shooting.

Entering the game, the main matchup seemed likely to be between Sullinger and Illini sophomore Meyers Leonard, who held his own Tuesday, scoring 14 points on 7-of-12 shooting.

“Both of us are some of the better bigs in the country,” Leonard said. “I thought I was right there with him … He had 21, and I’m not downgrading his game whatsoever, but I thought I did a pretty nice job.”

With the win, Illinois moves just a half game back of Big Ten-leading Michigan State. Ohio State (15-3, 3-2), meanwhile, fell to sixth in the conference after being picked to win it at the beginning of the season by the coaches.

Photo and story via The Daily Illini

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