AUSTIN, Texas — Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson made consecutive 3-pointers to give Illinois back the lead with 6 minutes left and the No. 7-seed Illini pulled out a tough 57-49 win over No. 10 Colorado in a game of wild momentum swings Friday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Illinois led by 16 at halftime only to watch Colorado rip off a 21-2 run in the second to grab the lead. The Illini looked desperate until Paul and Richardson coolly knocked down their shots to put Illinois ahead 48-44.
Four free throws by Paul eventually put the game out of reach for the Illini (23-12) who will play No. 2 seed Miami on Sunday.
Paul led Illinois with 17 points. Askia Booker scored 14 points for Colorado (21-12).
The baskets by Paul and Richardson rescued the Illini from an epic meltdown. Illinois, a team that came in with the confidence built by playing through the rigors of the Big Ten, was in control in the first half.
Illinois used its defensive muscle and a 21-5 run over the final 10 minutes of the first half to roll into the locker room with a 37-21 lead. Richardson made three 3-pointers in the run and Tracy Abrams ended with Illinois’ sixth 3-pointer of the half with 3 seconds left.
Everything flipped in the second.
Colorado regrouped behind Pac-12 defensive player of the year Andre Roberson and the hot shooting of Booker, who made three 3-pointers in the opening minutes of the second half.
Paul picked up two quick fouls early in half and went to the bench. His absence over the next three minutes seemed to unsettle the Illini as Colorado kept chipping away at the lead. Even when Paul returned, he missed his first two shots and the Illini scored just two points over the first nine minutes of the half.
Colorado made the hard work pay off when Josh Scott layup’s gave the Buffaloes the lead, and baskets by Xavier Johnson and Roberson pushed it to 44-39. Illinois finally broke its scoring drought on a basket by Abrams with 8:30 left in the half.
The game finally broke in Illinois’ favor when Richardson nailed his 3-pointer, then made a steal and assisted on Paul’s 3-pointer just seconds later. Back in the lead, the Illini seemed to regain their collective composure.
Paul’s 3-pointer was one of the few times he was able to break free of Roberson, who held Illinois’ offensive sparkplug to 3 of 12 shooting. Roberson, who ranked second nationally in rebounding, finished with nine points and eight rebounds.
Richardson scored 14 points and Abrams scored 13 for Illinois, whose senior-laden lineup missed last season’s NCAA tournament but returned under first year coach Jim Groce.
Colorado was playing in consecutive NCAA tournaments for the first time in 50 years only to make a quick exit. Spencer Dinwiddie, the Buffaloes’ leading scorer this season, finished with six points on 1 of 8 shooting.
Scott, a freshman who is a Lewis-Palmer graduate, had 14 rebounds for CU.