It was all about BP3.
Maybe not all. There was a lot of Jereme Richmond thrown in.
But for one night…it was Brandon Paul’s world, and we were just living in it.
We have a photo here at The Sports Bank entitled “sad illini.” You see this photo quite a lot after disappointing Illinois losses, and had the Fighting Illini dropped this game at home, “sad illini” would have DEFINITELY made another appearance this evening.
Brandon Paul was one of the big reasons that it didn’t.
He scored 17 points in the first half and finished with a game-high 20, and in general was the kick in the hind end the Illini needed in the first half.
After he scored his 10th point and gave the Illini a 25-23 lead, the Illini never trailed again.
“I just wanted to come out with a lot of energy, and my teammates did a good job of getting me the ball,” Paul said. “I was making my shots and trying to get to the basket at the same time.”
It was a variety of shots that made him incredibly tough to defend. When Paul’s three pointer is dropping, there are few shooters as lethal as him in the country, allowing him to use his quick first step to then get by defenders over-pursuing him on the perimeter.
Richmond also gave the Illini a big boost off the bench and showed everyone just what they were missing in Madison on Saturday. The dynamic forward really doesn’t have an equal on the squad, and the things he can do athletically force teams to game plan for him.
Put a guard on him, like Sparty did with backup point guard Mike Kebler? He will back you down and post you up (and if you’re Kebler he will also make it look like you shouldn’t be on a D1 roster).
Are you a bigger player trying to keep him out of the post? He’ll pull you out to the perimeter and drive by you. He’s also got a great knack of getting into position for rebounds and in general is a beast to handle in the post because he is so strong and such a great leaper.
In short, the match-ups problems he creates always make him a welcome addition on the court and a tough match-up for all teams. That’s why his presence is so important and why it was such a welcome sight to see him back on the court Tuesday night.
As for his absence, Jereme deferred much of the attention.
“It wasn’t really much to it,” Richmond said. “I just wanted to go home and touch base with my family for a short period of time. My teammates and coaches did a really good job of supporting me, and I wanted to come back with a better focus, and really bring something to the team.”
What he brought was an intensity and toughness that the Illini will need heading into their big match-up with Ohio State this weekend.
Illinois head coach Bruce Weber knew his team wasready for this matchup with Michigan State, or at least, knew that they should be.
“I didn’t have to tell them,” Weber said of how important the game was. “I mean, if they don’t know it, I’m in trouble. I wish I had done a better job last week at Penn State and Wisconsin, but they know it. I just said, ‘Hey, are you a good team?’ If you’re a good team, and you do the things that you do well, we’re gonna be good.”
And then Weber said what should be the mantra for the rest of the Illini season.
“Every game is gonna be huge. Last week they were huge. You just have to come and play,” Weber said matter of factly.
Paul Schmidt is a senior contributor and media relations director for the Sports Bank, and is entering his tenth year of writing about sports in Chicago and Illinois. You can reach him via email here.Follow paulmbanks