Shooting guard Brandon Paul scored 19 points on 6-for-12 shooting to lead Illinois to a shockingly easy 74-55 victory over Ohio State on Saturday afternoon in Champaign.
Although the Illini's big win over Ohio State last January preceded losses in 11 of the team's final 13 regular season games, this year's win feels like more of a good omen. For one, Illinois still has two games against Nebraska and one against Penn State left on the schedule. For another, Brandon Paul didn't need to have the game of his life just to get Illinois a narrow victory.
Last season, Paul was a ridiculous 8-for-10 from three-point range en route to 43 points that barely lifted his team over the Buckeyes, 79-74. Illinois got zero points from its bench in that game, but Paul got a lot more help in Saturday's romp. Joseph Bertrand fueled the bench production with 12 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 blocks, while big man Nnanna Egwu pitched in with 16 points in just 10 shots with a team-leading 8 rebounds. Tracy Abrams turned the ball over 6 times while running the point, but he also contributed with 13 points and 5 assists.
Thanks to some solid defense, the Illini were able to overcome poor three-point shooting (8-for-27) and 18 turnovers. Ohio State had 16 giveaways themselves and hit on just 4 of 19 three-point shots. The Buckeyes also lacked the balanced scoring that powered Illinois. Deshaun Thomas continued his outstanding campaign with a game-high 24 points, but Aaron Craft was the only other Buckeye who scored in double figures. Complimentary parts Sam Thompson, LaQuinton Ross, and Shannon Scott combined for just 5 points on 1-for-14 shooting.
Illinois seemed to be fading after losses to Mizzou and Purdue. However, this big win indicates that the real Illinois may actually be the team that defeated Gonzaga and Butler in the non-conference season. We'll learn a lot more this Wednesday when the Illini host Minnesota, another team attempting to climb into the Big Ten elite.
For Ohio State, meanwhile, the loss means that the team has still not beaten a team inside of KenPom's top 100. The Buckeyes will need a better output from their role players if they hope to boost their resume during Big Ten play. Next up for them is a road game at Purdue on Tuesday.