Sixteen hours after having the game of his life, Illinois’ Brandon Paul was still waiting for someone to pinch him awake.
Since scoring a career-high 43 points in the Illini’s upset of No. 5 Ohio State on Tuesday, Paul had been carried on fans’ shoulders, gotten a standing ovation and countless requests for autographs and pictures (even for his mother) at Buffalo Wild Wings, watched highlights of himself on ESPN, received 100 texts and 200 Facebook friend requests, had 500-plus direct mentions on Twitter and had done an assortment of radio, television and print media interviews. Of course, he also got some shots up.
“It’s been pretty cool,” Paul said on Wednesday afternoon. “A lot of people were blowing my phone up. My Twitter was going crazy. I slept a little, but it was hard because I wanted to check my Twitter.”
Paul’s game will go down as one of the greatest in Illini history. Here’s a rundown of what he accomplished: He tallied the third-most points in school history, matched school record with eight 3-pointers, became the only college basketball player over the past 15 seasons to score at least 43 points while attempting 15 or fewer shots, scored Illinois’ final 15 points, became one of three players in the last 10 seasons to have 40 points, eight rebounds and four blocks in a game and scored most points in a Big Ten game since Glenn Robinson’s 49-point game in 1994.
While all the records and stats do justice to Paul’s extraordinary night, his fade-away 3-pointer from the baseline with Ohio State’s Aaron Craft smothering him with 43 seconds remaining needs to be seen to be truly appreciated. Even Paul didn’t understand what he did until he watched a replay of it.
“I think it was more surprising on tape,” Paul said. “When I did it, I was just focused on winning the game. It kind of brings you back to high school. I took a lot of wild shots in high school and made most of them.”
It was a shot and a performance no one who was in attendance will ever forget. Here’s what some people said about it the day after:
Illinois men’s basketball sports information director Derrick Burson: “I've worked with men's basketball here since the 1999-2000 season, so I've been fortunate to see a number of great wins. The best is still the comeback against Arizona in the 2005 Elite Eight. But in terms of an individual performance, Brandon's last night is the most dominant, without question.”
Champaign News-Gazette beat writer Paul Klee: “I think what you saw with Brandon Paul is a short memory. Wayne McClain's in his ear more than a pair of headphones. Brandon’s a better player for it. And it doesn't faze him -- just like a missed shot, missed layup, turnover, whatever -- doesn't faze him. If it feels like leather, it's probably going up again. … When he beat the shot clock with that crazy 3, you just saw the Ohio State coaches throw up their hands. Like, what can you do?”
ESPN college basketball analyst and former Illinois player Stephen Bardo: “That was best performance I’ve ever seen in Assembly Hall. Think about this, Brandon Paul’s first bucket was a banked shot straight ahead. Then, he had four turnovers in the first four minutes that led to buckets. Brandon Paul had seven or eight turnovers that led to 15 points. He almost accounted for 60 points in the game. It was one of biggest anomalies I’ve ever seen in sports with the blocks, shots, turnovers and ability to make clutch shots. It was a tremendous individual effort.”
Illinois assistant coach Jay Price: “I hope Brandon learned when he takes good shots and plays as hard as he can, he can be one of the best players in the league. I hope he can build on that. He was doubting himself. Hopefully, that will erase those doubts. We need him to play well for us to be successful.”
Evolution Athletics president and Paul’s offseason trainer Jeff Pagliocca: “It’s one of those nights, man. The kid put two halves together. He banked stuff in. He got bounces. He hit floaters. He got to the rim. He came off screens to get his shot. He did a lot of stuff. What I’ve been saying for the last 24 hours is you should see more stuff like this from him. I think from the summer on we’ve been saying not that we would see 40-point games from him, but more 20- and 30-point games.”
Professional basketball player and former Illinois video coordinator and player Chester Frazier: “He was special! And he could have played better without the turnovers. He single-handedly kept them in it. I’ve been waiting for him to breakout since freshman year. He has NBA talent. That Ohio State game displayed his full game on both ends! I’m happy for him.”
Next Level Performance founder and Paul’s trainer Dickey Simpkins: “I’m happy that all Brandon’s work that he has put in is paying off more and more. He continues to stay on his skill development in the offseason with NLP. Last night’s 43 points is an example of a good kid, who has unbelievable talent have a breakout night as a leader of the Illinois team. He has always had those explosive scoring abilities. As his mentor, I am very happy for him.”