Brandon Paul hit a 15-foot jump shot that beat the buzzer, and Illinois beat Minnesota, 51-49, in the Big 10 Tournament opener today at The United Center in Chicago. Illinois advances to the quarterfinals of the tournament and will play conference champion Indiana tomorrow morning at the same time, tipping off at 11 a.m. Hear the action here on 95.5, GLO, Peoria's home for classic rock and Illini sports.
This first game of the Big 10 Tournament featured two NCAA tournament "bubble teams" (8th and 9th seeds in Big 10 tourney),and it featured huge momentum swings. Illinois fell behind 7-2 out of the gate, then went on an 11-0 run. The Illini held Minnesota to six field goals in the first half and led the Gophers, 25-16, at the half.
But before a partisan crowd in Chicago, the Illini squandered that lead in the second half, as poor shooting hit the home state team. Minnesota grabbed the lead late in the game, but Peorian D. J. Richardson canned a huge 3 point shot to tie it, 49-49, with :49 seconds left. It was Richardson's only basket of the second half.
Illini defense forced Gopher Austin Hollins out of bounds after receiving the inbounds pass, setting up Paul for his last possession heroics. Paul finished with 25 points and five rebounds for the winners, who now get another shot at Indiana. In the only other meeting between the two teams this year, Illinois shocked then-number-one-ranked Indiana at Assembly Hall in early February, a win that turned around the season for Illinois.
Most hoops observers feel that both Illinois and Minnesota will get invited to play for the national title in the NCAA tournament, but the win assures the bid for Illinois, now 22-11. Minnesota finishes the regular season with a 20-12 record.