Brandon Paul, Illinois’ star guard, went missing Sunday afternoon in Ann Arbor, at around 2 p.m. ET. It was during a game between his Illini team and No. 7 Michigan that the Wolverines ended up winning 71-58. Paul had scored 10 points in the first half, and Illinois led at the half. It was after his mysterious disappearance that things went downhill for Illinois. Paul was reported missing after the game, when he did not shoot a single shot in the second half.
Now, obviously Paul did not actually go missing on Sunday (hopefully!), but it was shocking that the best player on the team decided to not play in the second half.
It is one thing for a player to be held scoreless in a half. If the shot is not falling, it just isn’t falling. It is more than fair to criticize a star player for being held scoreless, as you have to be able to find a way get it done.
But, to not even take a shot is a whole different situation. It is completely unacceptable and tough to comprehend. It was not like Paul was getting double or triple teamed either, and was instead creating for teammates. He just chose to take himself out of the game, a baffling move.
After the game, coach John Groce talked about mental weakness by his team.
“They were smarter and tougher than us in the second half”, Groce said.
That is an enormous understatement by Groce, as Paul was not simply not good enough, he just did not really try. Paul went down without a fight, in a scary reminder of the turmoil of last season for Illinois fans. Groce has talked about how that is in the past for the team, left in a previous era. He is right, the team bares little resemblance to last year’s product, considering it is largely made up of the same names.
But on Sunday afternoon, Paul checked himself out of a big game, one that Illinois led at the half. It was a head-scratching move. He did not accidentally not take a single shot, it doesn’t work that way. Paul allowed himself to be taken out of the game without any fight at all. Illinois has shown so much fight the last couple of weeks, ever since their upset win over Indiana, but against Michigan the team, and Paul specifically, reverted back to last year’s seemingly indifferent squad.