Brandon Paul buzzer beater sends Minnesota home to wait and wonder about future

Kyle Ringo

Brandon Paul was the hero on one end of the court for Illinois and Austin Hollins was the goat on the other end for Minnesota.

It's a familiar set of circumstances at this time of year in college basketball. One player celebrating with teammates and looking forward to the next challenge, another player left with regret and questions about what comes next.

In a tie game with 15 seconds left in the opener of the Big Ten Conference tournament, Hollins, an Minnesota junior, received a pass outside the arc along the sideline and stepped out of bounds turning the ball over to Illinois for a last-shot opportunity.

Illinois coach John Groce knew what to do. He put the ball in the hands of Paul, his team's leader and best playmaker and let him do his thing.

Paul dribbled near the top of the arc and allowed the clock to tick down and then pushed toward the basket in the final seconds only to pull up left of the foul line and let it fly. The ball found the net and the red light came on, 51-49. Game over.

Moments before Paul's heroics and Minnesota's turnover, D.J. Richardson drilled a huge 3-pointer to tie the game and set up the final two possessions.

It was a potential disaster for the Gophers who now must wait until Sunday to know their fate. Is the strength of the Big Ten this year enough to get them a ticket to the Big Dance or will the selection committee turn a sour nose up at the sight of their 11 losses in the final 16 games, including the last two in the regular season and Thursday's heartbreaker?

It was an all-too-familiar ending for Minnesota, which leads the Big Ten in turnovers.

There is another question to be answered in Minnesota as well. Is coach Tubby Smith a candidate to be fired given the way his team faded down the stretch once again this season?

Last season's run to the NIT championship game wasn't an awful way to finish a season, but no one was hoping to relive it, and that might be what the Gophers are left to play for once again with a 20-12 overall record and a conference mark two games below .500 at 8-10.

The Gophers haven't been to the NCAA tournament since 2010 and haven't advanced beyond the first round under Smith.

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