Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Rapid Reaction: Illinois 79, Ohio State 74
By Dana O'Neil
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- A quick look at Illinois’ 79-74 upset of No. 5 Ohio State:
How it happened: Illinois, a team that scored just 59 and 57 points in its past two victories, torched Ohio State on the offensive end, shooting 60 percent from the field. The Fighting Illini blistered the Buckeyes from beyond the arc, hitting 61 percent (11-of-18), and frankly outplayed the more talented Buckeyes.
And Ohio State had absolutely no answer for Brandon Paul. Then again, Dwyane Wade might not have. Paul scored 43 points, the third-most in Illinois history and the most an OSU team has given up since Michigan State's Scott Skiles scored 43 in 1986. He was clutch, too. With the shot clock draining and a hand in his face, Paul hit his last 3-pointer of the night from the corner to give the Illini a 74-70 lead -- and then came down to block Jared Sullinger from behind just for good measure.
Star of the game: Hmmm … let’s go with Paul. The junior, who came into the game averaging 12 points per game, was insane. Or crazy. Or insanely crazy. He torched the Buckeyes and was a silly 8-of-10 from long range, hitting some shots that belonged in a game of H-O-R-S-E. According to Jason McCallum of ESPN Stats & Info, only two other college basketball players in the past 10 years have posted 40 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocked shots in a single game: Al Thornton (Florida State) and Chris Kaman (Central Michigan). And no player in the past 15 seasons has scored at least 43 points on 15 or fewer FG attempts.
First half: The Illini were able to do what few teams can do against the Buckeyes -- shoot the ball well. Illinois toasted the Buckeyes for 58 percent shooting from the floor (remove D.J. Richardson's 1-of-5 effort and the team missed just six shots) and kept within reach of Ohio State at 39-34. Paul went on a personal 10-point scoring streak to stop what could have been a decisive OSU run. Were it not for 10 first-half turnovers that led to 15 easy Buckeye baskets, this could have been a different story in the first half.
What it means: Mostly it means the Big Ten is really good and that it's especially tough to win on the road here. Illinois now has won 14 in a row at Assembly Hall.
Beyond that, the Illini, who have looked shaky in their past four games, got a huge injection of confidence, putting together arguably their best offensive game of the season. The defense and turnovers certainly are problems that need to be solved, but a win over a top-five team is a win over a top-five team.
Ohio State, in the meantime, has lost its third game, all on the road. The Buckeyes, an overwhelming preseason favorite in the conference, clearly are not going to have smooth sledding in the tough Big Ten.
Odds and ends: This was a game of 5-on-5 in the literal and figurative sense. Unbelievable, neither team's bench contributed a single point. … The Illini’s defensive struggles continued. The same team that allowed 56.5 points per game in its first 10 outings has watched that number jump to 65-plus per game. But hey, Illinois did have nine steals and defended the 3 well (OSU was 5-of-15).
What’s next: For Ohio State, there’s not a lot of time to mull over this one. The Buckeyes host No. 8 Indiana on Sunday, one of three teams to beat them this season. Meanwhile, the Illini have a nine-day break to savor this one. They play next at Penn State on Jan. 19.