Five weeks ago Thursday, Tyler Griffey’s layup at the buzzer helped Illinois knock off then-No. 1 Indiana.
On Thursday, in the opening game of the Big Ten Tournament, it was Brandon Paul’s jumper at the buzzer that sent the Illini into a matchup with the top-seeded Hoosiers.
Paul scored a game-high 25 points to lead No. 8 seed Illinois (22-11) over No. 9 seed Minnesota 51-49.
“We wanted to make sure that we got the last shot and worst-case scenario, we go to overtime,” Illinois coach John Groce said of the game’s final play, set up when Minnesota’s Austin Hollins stepped on the sideline with 14 seconds left and the game tied.
Paul took the inbounds pass and pulled up for a fadeaway jumper to help Illinois avoid a third straight defeat.
“I didn’t want to lose,” Paul said. “We worked too hard. This team has so much character and the coaching staff, they got us right for this one.”
The Illini will need to keep that mindset against the Hoosiers (26-5), who probably need at least one win in the Big Ten Tournament to ensure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“We know Illinois will be a tremendous challenge,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “They play with great intensity, passion and execution.
“When you’re going against great talent, which this tournament is full of, you’ve got to stay engaged for 40 minutes.”
That wasn’t the case the last time the two teams met, when the Hoosiers left Griffey unguarded on an inbounds pass with less than a second to play.
“We’re preparing for the next game,” Paul said. “We got Indiana next and we have a mindset that this is it for us. Especially for our seniors, we got to play, go out with a bang.”
When asked if he’s excited to get another shot against Indiana, D.J. Richardson said, “I’m ready to keep playing this tournament.
“There’s a lot of good teams in the Big Ten,” added Richardson, who had six points as one of several Illini who struggled to find his shooting touch on Thursday. Paul was 10-of-16 from the field; his teammates were a combined 8-of-40 (20 percent) as the Illini won for just the second time this season while shooting under 35 percent.
“We’re going to treat Indiana like we treat the rest of the teams in the Big Ten, take it one game at a time,” Richardson said.
Groce said he would have to wait for the scouting report from assistant coach Dustin Ford before looking ahead to the Hoosiers. One stat Ford will likely have shared with his boss: Illinois is 5-1 all-time against Indiana in the conference tournament.
Of course, they haven’t met in the Big Ten Tournament since 2007, either.