Despite being up 16 points at halftime, Illinois found itself having to battle back against a tough Colorado team late in the second half in the second round of the East Regional on Friday night. Illinois would eventually fashion a 9-3 run over the final five minutes to defeat Colorado 57-49.
“That game was about as strange a game that I have ever been associated with,” Illinois head coach John Groce said.
The Illini shot a paltry 31-percent from the field for the game, and at one point in the second half missed 14 straight field goals. Guards Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson scored 17 and 14 points respectively to lead their team to a gritty win to advance to the third round against Miami on Sunday.
“My shot wasn’t falling so I knew I had to get to the free throw line more,” Paul said. “That’s March Madness, you have to find ways to win these types of games.”
Colorado didn’t fare much better shooting the ball, especially in the second half, but 15 turnovers and two fouled out players allowed Illinois to mount a comeback and eventually take the game over. Askia Booker scored 14 points for Colorado and Andre Roberson flirted with a double-double with his nine points and eight rebounds.
“We were pushing it down their throats,” Booker said. “But give credit to Illinois for knocking down open shots when they needed to in order to win.”
The Buffaloes went on a 21-0 run after halftime and held a five point lead, but could not stave off the late run by Illinois.
“For the early portion of the second half [the Buffaloes] were the tougher team,” Groce said. “I’m anxious to see how they grow moving forward.”