Illinois advances behind Paul buzzer-beater

Illinois advances behind Paul buzzer-beater
March 14, 2013, 3:00 pm
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Jack McCarthy

With the final seconds slipping away, the sellout crowd at the United Center knew exactly who was destined for a last-ditch shot.

Illinois' Brandon Paul didn't disappoint, displaying a flair for the dramatic with a successful fadeaway jumper as time expired to propel eighth-seeded Illinois to a 51-49 victory over Minnesota.

The Big Ten tournament first-round win set up a Friday date with No. 1 Indiana.

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While Paul seemed certain to take the final shot, he was prepared to dish off if necessary.

"In that situation, you've got to see what the defense gives you," said Paul, who arrived at a post-game press conference with his left knee wrapped in ice. "I've been in this situation before...I saw some space and hit the shot."

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Paul, playing for the fourth time at the United Center, closed with 25 points for his best game ever on the Chicago Bulls' home court.

But he wouldn't have been in position for heroics had it not been for teammate D.J. Richardson's tenacity less than a minute earlier.

[Illinois-Minnesota Box Score]

Richardson, the senior guard from Peoria, forced a 49-49 tie after hitting a 3-pointer on his third try with 48 seconds remaining.

"My teammates kept on finding me and I kept shooting," he said. "I'm a shooter, I keep shooting. That's what coach wants me to do. I didn't think about how I was shooting, I just thought about how it was going to fall. I knew it was a big shot for us.

Richardson missed his first shot, got the rebound and tried again. The second shot was off target but teammate Tracy Abrams got the rebound.

Abrams passed back to Richardson and this time he connected.

"Brandon's shot was a big shot," said Illini coach John Groce. "But the possession (previously) we got multiple offensive opportunities that led to D.J. making the three was just as big as well."

Minnesota was in position to win with the ball and 16.8 seconds remaining. But Austin Hollins stepped on the sideline stripe after he hauled in an inbounds pass and gave Illinois the ball to set up Paul's last-second heroics.

"It's disappointing," Gophers coach Tubby Smith said. "I thought we did some things after we overcame the first half. We fought and gave ourselves a chance. But in the end, we just didn't get the stops that we needed.

"You have to commend Illinois. They kept their composure and they made a big shot at the end. And that's what it takes."

Austin Hollins paced No. 9 seed Minnesota (20-12) with 16 points while Andre Hollins added 13.

The United Center is something of a home away from home for Illinois, now 34-11 at the arena dating back to 1994-95. Half of the current Illini roster hails from the Chicago area.

Paul put on an early show with 10 points -- including a pair of 3-pointers -- as Illinois opened a 13-7 lead at 9:23 mark.

Minnesota struggled from the field, going 6-for-22 in the first half (27.3 percent) with many attempts pushing the shot clock limit. But the Gophers battled back from a 23-11 deficit and cut the Illini lead to 23-16 after an Andre Hollins 3-pointer with 1:21 showing.

Paul replied with a jumper 39 seconds later to close with a game-high 12 points and secure a 25-16 halftime lead. The 16 first-half points was the Gophers' season low.

Illinois led by as many as 10 early in the second half before Andre Hollins struck with back-to-back 3 points. Suddenly the lead was down to three and then vanished on an Andre Ingram 3-point play with 12:42 left.

Illinois meanwhile, missed just about everything they put up, hitting just 3-of-18 shots over a span lasting almost eight minutes. Paul broke the slump with a jumper with 8:56 left.

Paul finally ended the cold spell with a jumper with 8:56 to play.

Minnesota maintained a slight edge the rest of the way until Richardson finally converted on his 3-pointer to force the tie.

His two 3-pointers for the game extended a career-long streak of 38 consecutive games with at least one long-distance shot, the longest active streak by anyone from a BCS conference.

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It was the first time this season the Gophers have lost when leading with five minutes remaining (16-1).

"It was a tale of two halves here," said Illini coach John Groce. "Defensively, we were really good in the first half, maybe as good as we've defended in a long time. They put that switch on us in the second half and were able to get stops and get us out of rhythm."

The loss leaves Minnesota still hoping for an NCAA tournament bid, but facing some uncertainty with three straight losses.

"We haven't played our best basketball in the past three games," said Andre Hollins. "We want to have faith. We have a pretty good resume."