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Brandon Paul has 43 in Illini win

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Updated: February 12, 2012 8:19AM

CHAMPAIGN — His game couldn’t have started with less promise. He missed badly on his first two shots. He committed four turnovers in the opening minutes.

Through it all, Illinois junior guard Brandon Paul knew his team had his back.

“I knew my teammates and my coaches had faith in me,” Paul said.

He rewarded their trust by scoring a career-best 43 points and tying a school record with eight three-pointers as Illinois recovered from an 11-point, second-half deficit to stun No. 5 Ohio State 79-74 Tuesday night at Assembly Hall.

Illinois fans stormed the court and held Paul aloft. It was arguably the most important victory in coach Bruce Weber‘s career at Illinois since his 2005 national runner-up team.

“Coach Weber sent me a text before the game that tonight was my night to shine. I said, ‘Yes, sir,’ ’’ the former Warren star said. 

“That’s the first time since he’s been here that he obeyed me,” Weber said.

Paul scored the Illini’s last 15 points. He shot 11-for-15 from the field, including 8-for-10 from three-point range. He also made 13 of 15 free throws, including five of six in the last 21 seconds that sealed the upset.

On a night former Illinois coach Lou Henson had a special banner unfurled on his 80th birthday, Paul made his own history. His 43 points were the third-highest in Illinois history. Dave Downey scored 53 in 1963, and Andy Kaufmann had 46 in 1990.

He added eight rebounds, two steals, two assists and three spectacular blocks, including one against Ohio State star Jared Sullinger (21 points) with less than a minute to play. 

After missing his first two attempts, Paul made nine shots in a row for the Illini (15-3, 4-1 Big Ten).

Paul’s eighth and final three-pointer came with the shot clock winding down and Buckeyes guard Aaron Craft draped over him.

It gave Illinois a 74-70 lead with 43 seconds to play.

“The way he started, he was special bad,” Weber said. “That crazy shot was kind of the backbreaker.” 

Meyers Leonard contributed 14 points and five rebounds.

Deshaun Thomas scored 23 points for Ohio State (15-3, 3-2).

“Paul was incredible,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “That’s one of the best Big Ten performances I’ve seen in my eight years here.”

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