December 8, 2011CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - No. 24/22 Illinois (9-0) overcame a nine-point deficit with 5:22 left to claim a 48-43 victory over St. Bonaventure (3-4) in front of 14,711 fans at Assembly Hall on Wednesday.
The Bonnies held Illinois to just 31.9 percent from the floor and without a field goal for over six minutes of the second half to help turn a 31-29 lead into a 39-30 cushion with 5:22 left. Illinois junior Brandon Paul led the Illini with 17 points and tallied three field goals – two while being fouled - five free throws, an assist and a steal over the final four minutes as Illinois came from behind.
Andrew Nicholson also had 17 and added a game-high eight boards for the Bonnies. Demitrius Conger and Matthew Wright had six apiece.
Paul's traditional three-point play tied it at 41 with 2:38 left to cap UI' s 12-2 run before Nicholson answered on the other end. Illini sophomore Meyers Leonard, the reigning Big Ten Co-Player of the Week, chipped in nine points and eight rebounds, with several of those allowing for extended possessions down the stretch.
Nicholson was called for travelling on the Bonnies' next possession after Leonard gave the Illini a 45-43 lead with under a minute to play, and was just off the mark on a tying 3-pointer with 18 seconds remaining.
Points were at a premium for both teams in a defensive battle that turned sloppy at times and decidedly intense at others.
In the first half, Illinois used three 3-pointers to spark a 10-0 run that yielded a 17-9 lead. The Bonnies rallied to knot the score at 20 before Michael Davenport's free throws with just under a minute to go gave SBU a 26-24 lead at the half.
St. Bonaventure returns to action on Saturday against Canisius in the back end of a doubleheader. Game time is set for 7 p.m.
NOTES: Youssou Ndoye, a 6-foot-11 freshman center, earned his first career start against the 7-1 Leonard … SBU used a different cast of starters for the second straight game … SBU has not beaten a ranked team since Feb. 9, 2002 (0-17) … The Bonnies fall to 0-3 when the opponent attempts more free throws … Nicholson was the only Bona player with more than six points.