Paul bleeds as Illini fall to Minnesota
CHAMPAIGN – Illinois guard Brandon Paul headed to the locker room after several minutes in the first half Wednesday night when ice and cotton balls could not stop blood from pouring out of his left nostril.
The rest of the Illinois basketball team knew the feeling.
No. 12 lllinois could not stop its problems from hemorrhaging as No. 8 Minnesota bloodied them with an 84-67 victory at Assembly Hall.
The Illini (14-3, 1-2) were out for consecutive victories against top-10 opponents for the first time since 2005's NCAA tournament. Illinois hoped to replicate the energy that helped push them past then-No. 8 Ohio State on Saturday in front of a second-straight sellout crowd.
Despite 21 points from Paul, the Illini struggled to find their shooting touch and were unable to contain Minnesota on defense. The Gophers' Joe Coleman finished with a career-high 29 points.
Coach John Groce had warned before the game about Minnesota's transition defense, which produced dunk after open dunk in the first half.
Illinois could not have thought things were going well when Gophers guard Andre Hollins banked in a 3-pointer nearly from half court to beat the shot clock for a 42-30 lead early in the second half.
But the Illini answered with an 10-0 run to close within 44-42 with 12 minutes, 38 seconds remaining. After a foul on Nnanna Egwu, Groce became enraged, ripped off his jacket and threw it toward the bench as assistant coach Dustin Ford contained him while he chewed out the referees.
Point guard Tracy Abrams made three straight shots during the run, while Sam McLaurin took a charge and blocked a Minnesota shot.
Minnesota quickly found its footing and reclaimed a nine-point lead.
Illinois had to do without Abrams for a stretch as well. He played only 9 minutes in the first half after picking up two quick fouls and was tagged with a third less than 3 minutes into the second half. He still managed to score 14 points.
Illinois struggled in the first half, shooting only 8 of 30, including 3 of 16 on 3-pointers. The Illini shot only 23 of 65 overall (35.4 percent).
Minnesota forward Trevor Mbawke overcame a dominating dunk on him by Paul to score 19 points with 11 rebounds.
Center Egwu continued to show growth, battling Mbakwe inside and finishing with eight points and nine rebounds.
Paul wore a No. 12 jersey after he bloodied his first uniform from the nosebleed but returned to his usual No. 3 jersey after halftime.
The wardrobe change did not change much for his shooting night as he made only 6 of 17 shots.
Minnesota entered the game with the best offensive rebounding statistics in the nation, but the Gophers did not grab their first one until 8:35 remained in the first half. They outrebounded Illinois 34-29.