Illini blister Butler, win Maui tourney
Illinois guard Brandon Paul shoots against Butler in the first half of the title game of the Maui Invitational Wednesday in Lahaina, Hawaii.
LAHAINA, Hawaii — Brandon Paul scored 20 points to lead Illinois to the Maui Invitational title on Wednesday night, beating Butler in a 78-61 blowout that marked its third straight double-digit win.
The Illini (6-0) held off several attempts by Butler to string points together in the second half. Paul was one of four players in double figures, along with Tracy Abrams with 17 points and Tyler Griffey and D.J. Richardson with 14 each.
Illinois shot 48 percent as Butler (3-2) relied almost exclusively on point guard Rotnei Clarke to score. Clarke had 27 points and took nearly one-third his team's shots.
With the win, Illinois topped a Maui field that included No. 9 North Carolina and Marquette, which both lost early-round games.
After the buzzer, the Illini players went to center court to get gray championship T-shirts and kukui nut leis. Paul got a special lei as tournament MVP and held up a basketball-shaped trophy as a contingent of Illinois fans cheered.
Illinois won by outshooting Butler in the first half and countering each Bulldog run in the second.
After the Bulldogs pulled within five points with 12:26 left, the Illini went on a 10-point run highlighted by back-to-back 3-pointers from Tyler Griffey. After Kellen Dunham missed a three on the other end, Griffey took a pass and fired successfully from near the top of the key.
While Clarke scored 16 points in the first half for Butler, his teammates made only four baskets.
In the middle of a nine-point run, Paul gave Illinois a 12-point lead with a straightaway 3-pointer after Clarke missed on the other end. One basket later, the Illini led 37-22 with less than four minutes left in the half.
Illinois and Butler each reached the tournament's title game by winning games on consecutive days.
Butler opened the event with a buzzer-beating win over Marquette, 72-71 after Clarke launched a running 22-foot 3-pointer from the right side as time expired. The Bulldogs then outplayed No. 9 North Carolina in the second round, halting several comeback attempts from the Tar Heels en route to an 11-point win.
Illinois easily won its first two games, beating USC by 30 and Division II Chaminade by 24.
Illinois and Butler had not played each other since 1971.
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