It was the Brandon Paul Show in Urbana-Champaign on Tuesday night. Shot after bone crushing shot. Open Look, double teamed — it didn’t matter. 43 Points later, the Fighting Illini flashed their talent and fought down to the wire, as they were the better team when the game mattered. After dominating the second half, the Orange and Blue earned their first win in the last six tries with a 79-74 upset of #5 Ohio State.
Tonight was a battle of mismatches, pinpoint three point shooting, and runs throughout.
It started with five turnovers early for the Illini, as Ohio State took a 10-4 lead off one of those early giveaways on an Aaron Craft layup. Defensively, it looked like the Buckeyes had the advantage in the paint. Starting 4 guards, Illinois went straight to the block early to Meyers Leonard early and he impressed. After scoring four straight points, including a dunk in the low post to make the ballgame a two point game, he began to gas.
Sullinger took advantage of that midway through the first with a mid-range jumper to give the Buckeyes a three point lead. He then followed it up with a beautiful three point shot from the wing off an assist from Aaron Craft to make it 23-15.
After Sullinger hit the bench just a few moments later, Leonard started to regain his feet from under him. As the home crowd was introduced to the Brandon Paul show.
Down six, the Junior went on a solo 10-0 run with two open jumpers and two wide range threes to take the 25-23 lead. The half would end on a barrage of jumpers as Ohio State responded with a 6-0 run to give them a lead heading into the half.
Lenzelle Smith and Brandon Paul would exchange threes and Joseph Bertrand would hit an open look to keep it within five to start the second half. Out of the break, it looked like the Buckeyes were going to take over this ballgame, but of course Illinois continued to fight at home.
A William Buford jumper, Jared Sullinger layup and Aaron Craft two pointer gave the Buckeyes what seemed to be a convincing eleven point lead. Paul would hit another three with 18:43 on the clock to cut it to eight.
William Buford slammed home a dunk with one hand off a steal in what looked to be a momentum breaker off his own steal with fifteen minutes to play.
Illinois would respond with back to back three pointers on beautiful kick outs to Brandon Paul from D.J. Richardson. Meyers Leonard would hit an open look for two, followed by Paul going to the line twice to sink all four free throws.
After the 12-2 run, Ohio State clawed back to tie it at the 7 minute mark and it would be back and forth from there. With 2:00 on the clock, Meyers Leonard set a beautiful screen on the baseline to block William Buford from getting to the corner leaving Brandon Paul wide open for three.
After nailing it from downtown, Ohio State responded with Jared Sullinger, who beat Meyers Leonard to the hoop with a beautiful leaning jumper that caused a foul. After the missed free throw, Paul continued his assault by getting to the line and dropping two from the charity stripe.
Deshaun Thomas would keep the lead to one with a beautiful layup with 1:20 on the clock.
Down 70-71 With 45 seconds to go, Brandon Paul hit another three from the wing with two buckeyes in his face. That would be the dagger in the heart on a night where is offensive game filled Ohio State’s perimeter defense with puncture wounds.
Fifteen seconds later, Jared Sullinger took the inbound to the baseline and off the glass to cut it to one possession at 74-72.
Paul would ice the game though with five straight made free throws.
Overall, The Illini shot 60% from the floor and an even better 11/18 from three point land. Paul led the way with a career night. He drained 8/10 treys while grabbing 8 rebounds and draining 13 from the charity stripe on his 43 point night. The Buckeyes shot 47% from the floor and 5/15 from beyond the arc. OSU was led by Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas. Sullinger banged in 21 points, grabbed five rebounds and had 3 steals. Thomas scored 23 points on the night, despite never completely finding a major role in the offense. he also brought down six rebounds.
William Buford continued to struggle with shot selection and hitting open jumpers. HE was 7/18 with 15 points, but passed on opportunities to drive to the lane and get to the line.
Neither bench scored in the effort, as Illinois stuck with five players and Ohio State went 0-6 on the night.
According to ESPN, only Al Thornton (FSU) and Chris Kaman (C. Mich) had scored 43 and brought down 8 boards and swatted four blocks in the last ten years. Paul joins that group after a lights out performance.
Up next for the Buckeyes are the Hoosiers in Columbus on Sunday. Tip-Off at 4:30 ET