SPOKANE (AP) — Brandon Paul scored 35 points to lead No. 13 Illinois over No. 10 Gonzaga 85-74 on Saturday in a matchup of unbeaten teams.
Tracy Abrams added 14 points for Illinois (10-0) and new coach John Groce is off to the best debut for an Illinois coach in the team’s modern history.
Kelly Olynyk scored 16 points to lead Gonzaga (9-1).
Myke Henry’s basket gave Illinois its first lead of the game at 44-43 in the opening seconds of the second half, and the Illini pushed that to 54-49 by making all five of their field goals to open the half.
Henry’s 3-pointer gave Illinois a 59-51 lead. Two baskets by Przemek Karnowski cut Illinois’ lead to 61-58.
But shooting woes hurt Gonzaga in the second half, and D.J. Richardson’s 3-pointer gave the Illini a 68-59 lead.
Gonzaga was held without a field goal for 6 minutes, then got consecutive baskets from Olynyk and Gary Bell Jr. to close within 68-64.
Paul replied with two baskets for a 73-64 Illini lead with 5:45 left.
Gonzaga rallied, and Kevin Pangos’ free throw cut Illinois’ lead to 75-71 with 2:51 left.
But Paul completed a 3-point play to give Illinois a 78-71 lead with 2:29 left. Tracy Abrams hit two more free throws for an 80-71 Illini lead, and Gonzaga started taking desperation shots.
In the first half, Gonzaga made six of its first seven shots to jump to a 14-6 lead. Paul’s free throw cut Gonzaga’s lead to 20-16, but David Stockton replied with a 3-pointer for the Bulldogs, and they went on to build a 31-20 lead. Illinois fought back with a 12-2 run, and Paul’s free throws tied the score at 35.
Illinois had lost five straight games to ranked teams. Illinois’ previous road win over a ranked team came in 2010.