Illini fight off Gophers to win Big Ten opener
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) -- Brandon Paul scored a breakaway dunk that put Illinois ahead in double overtime and Meyers Leonard hit the layup that sealed an 81-72 victory over Minnesota in a Big ten opener Tuesday night.
Paul swiped the ball from Ralph Sampson III before the dunk that gave the Illini (12-2, 1-0 Big Ten) a three-point cushion at 73-70. Leonard's layup with 1:11 left made it 78-72 and finished the Golden Gophers (12-2, 0-1).
Paul finished with 21 points and six assists. Leonard had 20 and a game-high 11 rebounds for his third straight double-double.
D.J. Rich-ardson scored 13 points and had five rebounds for Illinois. Sam Maniscalco added 10 points.
Sampson led Minnesota with a game-high 22 points plus nine rebounds. Julian Welch added 15 points for the Gophers, whose six-game winning streak ended.
The Illini led by 13 midway through the second half before the Gophers stormed back to tie it with just over 6 minutes to play on a 3-pointer by Welch. A pair of Leonard free throws with 7 seconds left sent the game to overtime.
The first overtime ended at 70-70, setting the stage for Paul. Illinois benefited by the absence of the Gophers' Rodney Williams, who fouled out in with 2:02 left in the second overtime.
Joseph Bertrand gave Illinois what looked like a solid 48-35 lead with 13:20 to play in regulation on a fast-break layup.
But the Illini went quiet ... and the Gophers went to work.
Minnesota ran off 10 straight points, the last on a layup by Austin Hollins with 10:17 to play that cut Illinois' lead to 48-45.
Seven minutes later, Welch tied the game 54-54 with a 3-pointer.
Then, with 4:18 to play, Welch's free throw made the score 58-57 and gave the Gophers their first lead since the opening minutes.
With 36 seconds left, the second of two layups by Sampson looked like it might complete the comeback as the Gophers were up 64-62 and had the momentum. Illinois called time out, and Sampson and his teammates headed to the bench to back slaps and congratulations.
After an Illinois turnover and a missed free throw by Welch, Leonard missed on a wild drive to the basket but drew a foul. His free throws sent the game to overtime at 64.
Bertrand finished with 13 -- one of five Illinois players in double figures -- and entered off the bench on a string of hot shooting dating back to a loss to Missouri last week. He was 9-for-9 for a career-high 19 points against the Tigers.
On Tuesday Bertrand hit a long jumper with 12:35 left in the first half to tie the game at 11. He drew a foul and hit the free throw to give Illinois a 12-11 lead it held for more than 26 minutes.
Bertrand's streak ended 44 seconds later when a 16-footer wouldn't fall. He'd made 13 in a row over two games, including three straight against the Gophers, and had nine points by halftime.
Illinois used a 12-7 run to close the first half and turn a back-and-forth 25-20 game into a 37-27 halftime lead.
Leonard started slowly but woke up during that key stretch.
He picked up a basket on a putback over Sampson with 4:52 left, then hit a free throw to give Illinois a 27-20 lead.
With 3:15 left in the half, Leonard added two more on a jumper for a 30-22 lead.