CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) – Reserve Brandon Paul scored all of his 18 points on 3-pointers to lead No. 13 Illinois to a 79-65 season-opening win over UC-Irvine on Monday night in the opening round of the 2K Sports Classic.
Paul, a sophomore guard, hit his first five 3-point attempts as the Illini opened a 42-18 halftime lead.
He sparked what had been a sluggish Illinois offense, hitting on three straight early possessions.
Paul’s first 3 with 14:10 left in the first half gave the Illini an 11-5 lead.
After a missed jumper by the Anteaters, point guard Demetri McCamey was bringing the Illini up court when Paul called loudly from behind him for the ball. McCamey provided and, before UC-Irvine could set its defense, Paul hit another 3.
Seconds later, on the next possession, he drained a third.
UC-Irvine coach Russell Turner quickly called a timeout, but the Anteaters were already down 17-5 with 12:56 to play in the first half.
While Paul and the Illini were finding their shooting stroke, UC-Irvine hit just six of its 26 first-half shots (23.1 percent).
The Anteaters didn’t score during one 5-minute-plus stretch, coming up dry on nine straight possessions after Darren Moore’s 3-pointer with 9:03 to play. Chris McNealy’s jumper ended the drought, but the Anteaters were already down 34-10.
UC-Irvine opened the second half with more offensive life – helped by a dip in intensity from Illinois – and outscored the Illini 47-37 over the final 20 minutes.
The Anteaters cut the deficit to 49-34 with just under 15 minutes to play on Moore’s 3-pointer.
Six minutes later he drove the lane to shave Illinois’ lead to 14.
But Illinois quickly snuffed out any ideas about a comeback, scoring five points over the next 55 seconds. The last two, a dunk by Mike Davis, made it 64-45 with 7:32 to play.
Only a late flurry by UC-Irvine closed the gap to the final 14 points.
Moore led the Anteaters with 18 points, while Patrick Rembert added 12 and Eric Wise and Pavol Losonsky had 11 each.
McCamey had 13 points and eight assists for Illinois, while Mike Tisdale had 12 points and Mike Davis added 11.
The Illini bench, including Paul, outscored UC-Irvine’s 33-10.
Illinois faces Toledo on Wednesday night in the tournament’s second round.
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