Paul's big night helped Illinois down the Buckeyes for the first time in three seasons.
There's one way to get the fans back on your side. Beat the Big Man on Campus. In the Big Ten Conference, that's Jared Sullinger and No. 5 Ohio State. Illinois rallied from 11 points down in the second half behind the hot shooting of junior guard Brandon Paul, and the Illini celebrated a 79-74 win over Ohio State at Assembly Hall Tuesday behind a career-high 43 points from Paul. "I've said it already,'' said Illini center Meyers Leonard, "but Brandon played like a pro tonight. Brandon put on a show. We couldn't be more proud of him.'' The victory was the first over the Buckeyes in three seasons. In the process, the Illini gave former coach Lou Henson a present on his 80th birthday after hanging a banner over the court to recognize him as an honored coach in Illini history. But Paul stole the night, scoring his team's final 15 points, tying a school record with eight 3-pointers in a game and becoming the first to score 40 or more since Andy Kaufmann had 46 against Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1990. "I was laughing a couple times after the first two threes,'' Paul said. "I was going to keep shooting. That was the mindset. "Coach texted me before the game and said, 'This is your time.' This is special.'' Paul was 11 of 15 from the field and 8 of 10 from the 3-point line while also hitting 13 of 15 free throws. He also had eight rebounds and four blocks to overshadow his seven turnovers. "I just thought to give him some encouragement,'' Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "Sometimes you can convince somebody that they'll be OK. It was a good text, I guess. This is the first time since he's been here that he obeyed me.'' Illinois needed a "Tebow'' moment, the kind of big win that would spark excitement in a season filled with impatience. Booed at home over the weekend against Nebraska, the Illini figured a win over the Buckeyes would win some fans back, considering Ohio State was the league's preseason favorite and won 10 of the last 12 games in the series. Trailing Ohio State by 11 in the second half, the Illini rallied with a 22-7 run that cranked up the Hall. Leading 71-70, Paul nailed a 3-pointer with a hand in his face and the shot clock running out for a four-point lead with 42.8 seconds left, then made 5 of 6 free throws in the closing seconds to clinch it. "Now we've lost four Big Ten games in two years,'' Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "We've seen (Wisconsin's) Jordan Taylor have one of those nights and (Purdue's) E'Twaun Moore have one of those nights. And now this. "You've got to give him credit. He made some incredible plays.'' The Buckeyes started the game with forward William Buford on Paul, then used two more players before going with guard Aaron Craft, the Big Ten's sixth man of the year last season and an all-defensive team member according to Big Ten coaches a year ago. Craft couldn't do anything else on Paul's key 3-poointer in the final minute. "Brandon's crazy shot was a back breaker,'' Weber said. While the Illini played without point guard Sam Maniscalco and his painful left ankle, Sullinger and Leonard essentially battled to a draw, and the game became a shooting contest between Paul and the Ohio State talented lineup. Illinois improved to 15-3 overall and 4-1 in the Big Ten. The Illini don't play again until Jan. 19 at Penn State. Leonard scored 14 points while Joe Bertrand and D.J. Richardson scored 10 points apiece. Deshaun Thomas led Ohio State (15-3, 3-2) with 23 points while Sullinger had 21. He's not in the Naismith Hall of Fame, so the banner raising at halftime might be the next best thing for Henson, who ranks 11th all-time with 779 victories in major-college basketball. He led the Illini to 423 wins in 21 years, with one Big Ten title and the trip to the Final Four in 1989. "A lot of coaches have done a good job and not gotten in there,'' Henson said. "I fall in that category. A lot of good coaches are left out, I'm sure.'' NOTES: Paul's previous career high was 23 points against Purdue last season. . . Illinois beat a top five team for the first time since beating No. 5 Michigan State here in 2010. . . John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnSupinie. Illinois report card Front court -- A Center Meyers Leonard played Ohio State All-America big man Jared Sullinger to a draw. The game was more of a battle between essentially four-guard lineups. Back court -- A+ Despite issues with turnovers, guard Brandon Paul turned in a historical performance on a night when coach Lou Henson was honored. Bench -- C The Illini, like the Buckeyes, let the starters decide this game. Overall -- A Needing a win to get the heat off coach Bruce Weber and the fun back in Assembly Hall, the Illini found it thanks to the shooting of Paul.