As anyone who has watched the Illinois Fighting Illini can attest, it's a team that lives or dies based on whether the perimeter shots are falling. Just don't mention that to the Minnesota Golden Gophers this afternoon.
Despite one of its poorest shooting displays of the year, the Illini managed to slip by Minnesota, 51-49, in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday thanks to a stunning buzzer-beater by senior star Brandon Paul.
via Rob Dauster
After being dominated in the first 20 minutes, scoring a season-low 16 first-half points, the Gophers came alive in the second half to take the lead. Paul found his shot in the final seconds, though, hammering home a mid-range jumper to ignite a celebration in the United Center.
With an offense that revolves around hitting jumpers from the perimeter, Illinois typically has a tough time competing when those shots aren't falling, but the Fighting Illini were able to take advantage of a mistake-ridden performance by the Gophers.
Even though Minnesota had clear advantages in shooting percentage and rebounding, the sloppy play of the Gophers' ball-handlers proved costly in the turnover margin.
Illinois shot just 32 percent on the afternoon, including 6 of 25 from beyond the arc, but committed just five turnovers compared to Minnesota's 17 giveaways.
Powered by the impressive shooting of Austin Hollins and Andre Hollins, the Gophers totally changed the tone of the game in the second half before bowing out. Scoring a combined 29 points on 8 for 15 shooting, including 6 of 13 from beyond the arc, the two proved to be difference-makers in the game.
Paul was the big star all afternoon, though, carrying the offense as Minnesota employed a zone defense that challenged Illinois to make shots. With most of his teammates struggling, Paul finished with 25 points on 10 of 16 shooting, including the game-winning basket.
With the victory, Illinois advances to face the top-seeded Indiana Hoosiers in the quarterfinals. While Indiana is arguably the best team in the nation, the Illini defeated the Hoosiers in their only matchup this season, so don't expect Paul and company to be intimidated by their opponents.