CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Brandon Paul had one of the best nights in Illinois history Tuesday, scoring a career-high 43 points that included a 3-pointer with less than a minute to play to help Illinois upset No. 5 Ohio State 79-74.
The Illini (15-3, 4-1 Big Ten) led 71-70 when Paul sank his off-balance 3-pointer with 43 seconds to play. He followed that up with four free throws that put the game out of reach.
Paul scored the final 15 points for the Illini.
Ohio State (15-3, 3-2) led 39-34 at halftime, and was up 64-61 with just over five minutes to play.
But with the game tied at 66 with just over two minutes to play, Joseph Bertrand swiped the ball from William Buford, putting the ball in Paul's hands for a baseline 3-pointer that put the Illini up 69-66.
Paul's 43 points was the third-highest scoring performance in Illini history and he tied a school record with eight 3-pointers. He also had a team-high eight rebounds
Meyers Leonard added 14 for Illinois and Bertrand and D.J. Richardson scored 10 each.
Ohio State looked ready to put the Illini away early in the second half, stretching its lead to 48-37 in the opening two minutes on an efficient run that yielded nine points over four possessions. The last three points came from Thomas on a jump shot and a free throw.
But Illinois ran off its own 7-0 run, pulling to with two at 48-46 on a 3-pointer by Richardson. Paul stole the ball from Sullinger, broke down the court and quickly fed his junior teammate. It was the kind of run Illinois was able to answer with all night.
Ohio State pulled away yet again, going up 52-46 on a short turnaround jumper by Sullinger over Leonard with 14:25 left in the game.
The Illini then scored eight straight, taking the lead 55-54 with a baseline jumper by Leonard with 11:18 to play. The run's other six points came, not surprisingly, from Paul on a pair of 3-pointers. The second a sky-high bomb that dropped cleanly through the net and ignited the crowd.
On Illinois' next possession, Paul drew what the officials judged to be an intentional foul by Craft, sinking two of his three shots and giving the Illini a 57-54 edge with just under 11 minutes left.
Buford answered a long miss by Paul with two points on outside jumper that tied the game again at 61.
Then, after a Leonard turnover, he drained a 3-pointer for a 64-61 Ohio State lead with 6:18 to play.
Paul had a confounding first half, the kind Illinois fans have gotten used to.
He committed four of Illinois' 10 first-half turnovers (and finished with seven). But he also had four rebounds — more than any teammate at that point — and led the Illini on a 10-0 run that brought them back from a 23-15 deficit to a 25-23 lead.
Most of that run came with Sullinger on the bench.
Paul's 3-pointer with 6:23 to play in the half tied the game at 23, and Sullinger quickly left the bench to come back in.
Paul, though, followed his game-tying shot up less than a minute later with a bucket that gave the Illini the lead, their first since going up 2-0 less than a minute into the game.
Sullinger didn't score until almost nine minutes were gone in the first half, and was frustrated by a combination of tenacious defense from Leonard and Paul.
Sullinger took the hint, moving to the perimeter where he hit two first-half 3-pointers.
The second, over a desperate Leonard lunging toward the 3-point line to reach him, gave the Buckeyes a 34-29 lead with 2:19 left in the half.