Moments after swatting away Jared Sullinger's shot in the final minute of his team's 79-74 upset over fifth-ranked Ohio State, Illinois guard Brandon Paul stared down the national player of the year candidate and talked a little trash.
It wasn't the classiest gesture, but Paul earned the right to brag under the circumstances.
In perhaps the best individual performance of the college basketball season thus far, Paul erupted for 43 points on torrid 11-for-15 shooting the from the field and 13 of 15 from the foul line. His fallaway 3-pointer as the shot clock expired with less than a minute left gave Illinois a commanding four-point lead, enabling the Illini to escape with a confidence-boosting win over the Big Ten favorite.
To put Paul's performance into context, consider these stats for a moment:
• Paul's 43 points were tied for the second most a player has scored in a game this season behind only Creighton's Doug McDermott, who had 44 on Saturday against Bradley.
• Paul made 8 of 10 3-point attempts, sinking some better suited for H-O-R-S-E than a Big Ten clash.
• According to ESPN Stats & Info, no player in the past 15 seasons has scored 43 or more points on 15 or fewer field goal attempts.
What's most stunning about Paul's heroics is that perimeter shooting efficiency hasn't exactly been his hallmark previously. The 6-foot-4 junior entered play Tuesday night shooting 36.4 percent from the field and 28.4 percent from behind the arc, but he excelled Tuesday night despite facing one of the better perimeter defensive teams in the nation.
The outside shooting barrage from Paul helped erase concerns about Illinois' shaky start to Big Ten play. The Illini (15-3, 4-1) lost at Purdue, edged Northwestern by one and needed overtime against Minnesota and a comeback against Nebraska, yet here they are alone in second place in the league, a half game behind Michigan State.
For Ohio State, the loss served as a reminder that winning on the road in the nation's toughest league will not come easily. The Buckeyes (15-3, 3-2) have now lost at Indiana and Illinois with trips to Wisconsin, Michigan and Michigan State among the conference road games remaining.
Ohio State still has the talent to reel off a long win streak and get back into contention. It would help, though, if they don't run into anyone as inexplicably hot as Paul was Tuesday night.
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