Paul Sinks Buckeyes in Champaign Bath
By Brandon Castel
Brandon Paul played the game of his life Tuesday night and the Buckeyes could not overcome one of the great single-game performances in Illinois basketball history.
The junior from Gurnee, Ill. came into the game shooting just 28 percent from behind the arc this season. He could have made them from the parking lot against Ohio State in a 79-74 win at Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill.
Paul, who was averaging just over 12 points per game for the Fighting Illini (15-3, 4-1) Big Ten, knocked down eight of his 10 shots from behind the arc for a career-high 43 points—the third highest scoring performance in school history.
"That was unique," said OSU Head Coach Thad Matta summing up the game.
"It's funny, because we've now lost four Big Ten games in two years, and I've seen Jordan Taylor have one of those nights and I've seen E'Twaun Moore one of those nights, and now you've seen this. You have to give him credit, he made some incredible plays."
The Buckeyes (15-3, 3-2) got 23 points from Deshaun Thomas and 21 from Jared Sullinger, but they could not get a stop on Paul when they desperately needed it the final minutes of the game.
Thomas, who was Ohio State’s best offensive weapon for most of the night, gave the Buckeyes a 66-64 lead with just over three minutes to play. He tipped in a follow at the offensive end and drew a charge at the defensive end as Thad Matta’s team looked to take control on the road.
Paul was having none of it.
The Illini tied the game at 66 and OSU senior William Buford was stripped on the ensuing possession. There was Paul in the corner for a dagger three that gave Illinois a 69-66 in the final two minutes.
Sullinger nearly tied things up with a three-point play inside, but couldn’t get his free throw to fall. They were going in for Paul all night. A 68 percent shooter at the charity stripe this season, he made 13 of 15 at the line and blocked four shots, including one by Sullinger in the final minutes of the game.
Despite Paul’s hot shooting night, and a 14-point night from 7-foot center Myers Leonard, the Buckeyes made it a 1-point game with 1:17 to play on a nice inside basket by Thomas, who was 8-of-12 from the floor.
Illinois coach Bruce Weber called a timeout and apparently dialed up a long-distance three for Paul from what might have been the stands. Of course, he connected over the top of point guard Aaron Craft, who had been assigned to chase him around in the final minute of the game.
"Make them shoot a challenged shot, and we did," said Matta describing his instructions to his team in the time out just before Paul's last critical three.
"He just made a great shot. We were there. Aaron almost fouled him. That thing was big as an ocean to him tonight."
It didn’t matter who was on Paul all night. He scored on Craft. He scored on Lenzelle Smith Jr., and especially on freshman Sam Thompson, who has the length but not the experience to slow down a hot shooter like Paul.
Ohio State scored a few easy baskets in the final minute to keep the game from getting away, but Paul sank all four of his free throws to put the game out of reach.
He scored all 15 of the Illini's points in the final five minutes to finish with 43 points, the most allowed by the Buckeyes since Central Michigan's Tommie Johnson scored 45 against them on Jan. 2, 1987.
It was the third loss of the season for the Buckeyes and the second in conference play. They are now 13-0 at home this season and 2-3 on the road with wins at South Carolina and Iowa. They will get a rematch with Indiana in Columbus next Sunday before making their first trip to Lincoln on Jan. 21.
Season Stats Year to Date
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