USA TODAY Sports
The Illini advance after the late game heroics of Brandon Paul
Illinois' Brandon Paul lets every last second of clock tick away before burying a jumper that capped an exciting, if not always pretty back and forth win over Minnesota.
The fact that the Illini were even in the position to make a buzzer beater is surprising enough, as they seemingly had the Gophers dead to rights at halftime. With Trevor Mbakwe riding the bench with fouls for most of the first half, Illinois stretched out a 25 - 16 lead, which featured no less than three Minnesota shot clock violations.
Mbakwe though, would not see the bench once in the second half, and for most of the 20 minutes completely took the game over. The nine point Illini lead evaporated quickly and Minnesota even managed to force out a five point lead with five minutes to play.
Were it not for Brandon Paul, that might have been the story for Illinois. Paul had 25 points on 16 shots, nearly half of his team's entire point total. No other Illini had more than six points.
The bracket makers had both the Gophers and Illinois solidly in before this game, and the outcome shouldn't put Minnesota back on the bubble, but given how the last month has gone for Tubby Smith and his team (no wins outside of Minnesota since January) Minnesota fans cant feel great heading into the Dance.
For the Illini, it is on to face Big Ten champion IU tomorrow, the same Hoosiers that Illinois downed with another buzzer beater in Champaign.