On Monday night, I got a call from a friend that he had two tickets for the Illini/OSU game at Assembly Hall I could use. I called a buddy of mine and we rode a bus down Tuesday morning. Turned out to be a good choice.
Tuesday night’s 79-74 win over the Buckeyes was the kind of win Illini fans have been clamoring for from a Bruce Weber lead team since the glory days of 2005. The Illni consistently played well against good teams, but never could seem to finish the job. There was the win two years ago against then #5 MSU, but Kalin Lucas was out injured. This game was different.
Illini fans will probably remember this as the Brandon Paul game, and for good reason. Paul played absolutely out of his mind. The junior guard had 43 points (28 in the second half) and shot 8-10 from three point range. He shot 11-15 overall, and 13-15 from the free throw line. He is the first NCAA player in 16 years to score 43 points on just 15 FGA. Paul also had 3 blocks, the last of which denied Jared Sullinger with under a minute to play. The performance of sophomore center Meyers Leonard can’t be discounted either. He scored 14 on his own, but more importantly played good defense on Sullinger throughout the game.
This was a season defining win, but the Illini will need the bench (0 pts v. OSU) to start playing some more meaningful minutes and guards Maniscalco and DJ Richardson to be fully healthy to continue playing anywhere near that level. The Illini are now 10th in RPI, and a number 3 seed in Jerry Palm’s latest bracketology. That’s a lofty goal, but one I believe this team is capable of reaching.
Especially if Paul keeps playing like this.