The matchup between Ohio State and Illinois was anticipated by many for the individual matchup between the Buckeyes' Jared Sullinger and Illinois' Meyers Leonard. Then there was the ceremony honoring Lou Henson, the all-time winningest coach in Illinois history. But few people expected Brandon Paul to end up being the center of attention, which is exactly what happened in the Fighting Illini's 79-74 win at Assembly Hall.
Palu scored a career-high 43 points, making 11 of his 15 shots from the field (8-10 3PT) and 13 of 15 from the charity stripe to lead Bruce Weber's squad to the win. But it wasn't all about the points for Paul, as he contributed in other areas as well. Paul also led the team in rebounds (eight) and blocked shots (four), more than making up for his game-high seven turnovers. Wehn you've got it rolling like Paul did on this night, the mistakes tend to fade into the background.
"I was laughing a couple times. After the first couple threes, I just said I was going to keep shooting," remarked Paul. "That's the mindset that I've got to have."
Paul's offensive explosion was essentially the difference in the game as both teams finished with four starters reaching double figures and zero points from their respective benches. Deshaun Thomas (23 points, six rebounds) and Sullinger (21 points, five rebounds and three steals) led Ohio State offensively, but Sullinger was also their best three-point shooter as he made both of his attempts.
The rest of the team made just three of thirteen from beyond the arc and with Paul shooting the way he was, Thad Matta's team found itself in trouble throughout much of the second half. Shooting 60% from the field and 61% from three can cure a lot of ills, as it did for the Illini as they turned the ball over 18 times. It also didn't hurt Illinois to have a plus-7 advantage in points from the foul line (14-7), with Sullinger not attempting his lone free throws of the night until late in the game.
All things considered Leonard did a good job in his individual matchup with Sullinger, scoring 14 points and grabbing five rebounds in 38 minutes of action. But Tuesday night was all about the guard who got hot early and stayed so throughout. Even switching Aaron Craft, one of the best defenders in the country, onto Paul did the visitors from Columbus any good. Sometimes guys just have one of those nights, and that was exactly the case for Brandon Paul.
Other Notable Happenings
1. If you haven't given Baylor their due by now, this would be a good time to do so.
For whatever reason, Scott Drew's Baylor Bears haven't been discussed in the same realm as teams such as Syracuse, North Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio State despite owning some impressive wins to date. But after the Bears made the winning plays they needed to make late in their 75-73 win at #18 Kansas State, it's time for the nation to put the Bears in that company when discussing teams that can not only get to the Final Four but win the national title. Perry Jones III led four players in double figures with 17 points and eight rebounds while two other players (A.J. Walton and Quincy Miller) scored eight and nine points, respectively.
By the four minute mark of the second half five Baylor players had four fouls, but none fouled out and it was one of those players who stepped up big in crunch time. Quincy Acy, who played just 24 minutes due to foul trouble, scored a basket and then stole a pass on Kansas State's ensuing possession to give the Bears a 73-71 lead with 3:14 remaining. The Bears wouldn't trail again, and it was Acy's deflection of a pass in the final seconds that preserved the victory. Rodney McGruder led K-State with 30 points but their mistakes late opened the door for the Bears, and the visitors took advantage.
2. Providence honors the '87 Final Four team and blows out Louisville for their first league win.
It seems as if every time Rick Pitino brings a team to Providence his 1987 squad that reached the Final Four is being honored. After Tuesday night however, he may look to no longer be involved in such ceremonies at The Dunk. Louisville didn't look ready for a street fight from the start, and that's a bad way to enter a game when playing a team desperate for its first league win. Bryce Cotton and Kadeem Batts scored 27 points apiece as the Friars more than made up for the absence of Gerard Coleman (back injury), beating the Cardinals 90-59 to give Ed Cooley his first Big East victory.
Louisville couldn't turn over the Friars as point guard Vincent Council was the consummate floor general with 15 points, 14 assists and just two turnovers, and from there things really got out of hand for the visitors. It's been known that Peyton Siva and the rest of the Cardinals have a hard time scoring when they're unable to get out and run off of turnovers. And until that changes results like this remain a possibility as they encounter league opponents who can take care of the basketball. Hindsight is 20/20, but it looks as if those who felt that the Cardinals were overrated when they reached the Top 5 were ahead of the curve.
3. Northern Iowa forced Antoine Young to make plays, and he did as Creighton kept pace atop the MVC.
UNI needed a win in Omaha to remain within striking distance of the top of the Missouri Valley thanks to their losses to Illinois State and Evansville, with the latter coming at home. But due to two defensive moves the Panthers left town with a 2-3 record as they fell to the Bluejays 63-60. Ben Jacobson's squad essentially dared Creighton guard Antoine Young to make them pay offensively, and he did just that with a game-high 21 points. On the other hand Greg McDermott and his staff made the defensive move that may have won the game, placing more emphasis on limiting Marc Sonnen's perimeter looks.
Sonnen scored 15 points in the first half as he made all five of his three-point attempts. Sonnen finished the game with 15 points, and without his shooting the Panthers sputtered offensively. UNI shot 33.3% from the field and 28.6% from three in the second half, a far cry from their first half numbers of 42.3% and 66.7%. In addition to Young, Creighton received some big plays from Grant Gibbs (ten points) and Doug McDermott (14 points, eight rebounds) in addition to 11 rebounds from Gregory Echenique.
1. Playing their first game as a ranked team in 11 years, Seton Hall used a 17-1 second half run to put away DePaul 94-73. Fuquan Edwin scored a career-high 28 points to go along with nine rebounds, and point guard Jordan Theodore finished with 26 and 11 assists. Theodore's play this season has been outstanding, so much so that he has to be considered for Big East Player of the Year. Makes you wonder what the Cousy Award committee was thinking when they left Theodore off the list of 20 finalists for the award.
2. After winning consecutive conference road games at Wisconsin and Minnesota, Iowa has found out the hard way that they've still got some distance to travel before becoming a factor in the Big Ten. Michigan State whipped the Hawkeyes 95-61 in East Lansing, and in their last two games Iowa has lost by a combined 63 points.
3. Bernard James put forth an impressive performance for Florida State, scoring 18 points and grabbing 15 rebounds in the Seminoles' 63-59 win at Virginia Tech. James also blocked three shots and Ian Miller scored 15 off the bench as FSU picked up a much-needed win on the heels of their embarassing effort at Clemson.
4. An Atlantic 10 team to keep an eye on over the next two months: La Salle. The Explorers have won 11 of their last 12 games, beating Big 5 rival Penn 68-57 at The Palestra on Tuesday night. Point guard Tyreek Duren scored 21 points and dished out six assists while Earl Pettis added 18. The key for Dr. John Giannini's team, whose guards can play with anyone in the A-10, will be how they deal with bigger teams in league play.
5. Washington made things far more difficult than they needed to be in beating Seattle 91-83, but then again is anything expected to be "easy" for the Pac-12 this season? C.J. Wilcox scored a team-high 25 points off the bench while Tony Wroten scored 24 for the Huskies, who are off until Sunday's matchup with in-state rival Washington State.
6. Missouri State and Wichita State both took care of business at home to remain tied with Creighton atop the MVC standings, with the Bears beating Southern Illinois and Wichita State holding off Illinois State. And in Kyle Weems (MSU) and Joe Ragland (WSU), these two teams have players who can go off on a moment's notice if teams don't limit their looks.
7. Harvard avoided what would have been a catastrophic loss with regards to a possible at-large berth (should they need it) as they beat Monmouth 70-61. Keith Wright led the way with 18 points and 15 rebounds for the Crimson, who play George Washington before heading back into Ivy League play.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Brandon Paul (Illinois)
43 points (11-15 FG, 8-10 3PT), eight rebounds, four blocks, two assists and two steals in the Fighting Illini's 79-74 win over #5 Ohio State.
2. F Fuquan Edwin and G Jordan Theodore (Seton Hall)
The old Paterson Catholic teammates led the way for the Pirates in their 94-73 win over DePaul. Edwin scored a career-high 28 points and grabbed nine rebounds while Theodore added 26 and 11 assists.
3. F Kadeem Batts (Providence)
Batts, who was suspended for the fall semester, was one of the key figures in the Friars' 90-59 win over #15 Louisville. Batts scored 27 points, grabbed ten rebounds and blocked three shots in helping lead the Friars to their first Big East win under head coach Ed Cooley.