SPOKANE, Wash. — Before Saturday, the signature game of Brandon Paul’s career at Illinois was his 43-point showing in an upset win against No. 5 Ohio State last season at the Assembly Hall.
He didn’t score 43 in Saturday’s 85-74 win at No. 10 Gonzaga, but Paul’s performance against the Bulldogs might have been more impressive.
The 6-foot-4 senior guard scored a season-high 35 points to go along with four rebounds, three assists and three steals in front of 6,000 fans packed inside a sold-out McCarthey Athletic Center.
“I thought it was a spectacular performance,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “I really believe it. He’s one of the best guards in the country, one of the best players in the country, and he played like it tonight.”
Paul’s composed play in his 18-point first half helped rally the 13th-ranked Illini from an early 8-0 deficit in what was shaping up to be a runaway for the Bulldogs (9-1).
“This one was better than Ohio State,” fellow senior D.J. Richardson (11 points, six rebounds) said of Paul’s night. “It was on the road in front of a good crowd against a well-coached team in a tight arena.”
The game was shaping up to be a blowout in favor of Gonzaga, which was 110-7 at McCarthey Athletic Center since the building opened for the 2004-05 season. The Bulldogs led 8-0 and the rabid student section had the floor shaking.
But the Illini, who got 14 points and four rebounds from Tracy Abrams and nine points from Joseph Bertrand off the bench, kept their poise. Paul led the way.
“The thing they showed me tonight, that beginning of the game when we got stung, they didn’t flinch,” Groce said. “They kind of just kept playing, and I think that’s a sign of good things going forward.”
After Illinois’ win, everyone inside The Kennel was gushing about Paul’s play, including NBA Hall of Famer and Gonzaga alum John Stockton.
“He was terrific,” Stockton said.
Everyone was gushing, except for the man himself.
“It’s up there, I don’t like to dwell on my individual performances,” Paul said. “I’m obviously ecstatic that we won. Gonzaga’s a great team and we came out fighting and got the victory.”
Illinois snapped a nine-game road skid against ranked teams and with 10 wins has the most in Division I.