Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson made shots when it counted as Illinois survived an ugly shooting performance and a furious second-half Colorado comeback to take a 57-49 decision in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
A game of runs was determined by Illinois' closing 18-5 flurry, which was sparked by back-to-back 3-pointers from Richardson and Paul, who netted 14 and 17 points, respectively, to push the seventh-seeded Illini (23-12) into a third round East Regional match with the Miami Hurricanes on Sunday.
Tracy Abrams added 13 points with six assists for the Illini, who shot just 30.8 percent and were coming in as losers in four of six.
Inconsistent offense ultimately doomed the 10th-seeded Buffaloes (21-12), whose second scoreless stretch of at least eight minutes all but negated a 21-0 run to start the second half.
Askia Booker scored a team-best 14 points, Josh Scott had 10 with 14 boards and Andre Roberson finished with nine points and eight rebounds in defeat.
Booker's three 3-pointers in the early stages of the second half had a lot to do with the Buffaloes erasing a 16-point halftime deficit and taking a 44-39 edge, but the Illini stayed resilient and stifled them from there.
"In that situation, a lot of teams would crack and I thought our guys continued to stay very poised," said Illini coach John Groce.
Illinois went 11 1/2 minutes without a field goal until Abrams' layup cut its deficit to three, and two minutes later, Richardson had the Illini back in front when he knocked down a 3-pointer. He then came away with a steal, which set up a triple for Paul and created a four-point edge with just over six minutes left.
After closing out the first half by missing their last 11 shots from the field, the Buffaloes had similar struggles in the second half, as they failed to score a point in the nine minutes that followed their 21-0 run.
Their last chance went up in smoke after they couldn't get rebound off Abrams missed a 3-pointer with 1:12 remaining. Paul then sank a pair of free throws to create a six-point edge, and Booker's miss from long range on the ensuing possession sealed Colorado's fate.
Both teams came out shooting well, but the Illini went ahead, 22-17, just past the midway point after Paul, Tyler Griffey and Richardson knocked down 3- pointers in succession of one another.
The Buffaloes started 8-for-12 from the field, but following Roberson's jumper to cut the deficit to 24-21, they went ice cold from the field and didn't score the rest of the half.
Abrams and Richardson took advantage for the Illini by combining for a 13-0 run. Richardson canned two 3-pointers in a row before Abrams then capped the burst with a triple in the final seconds to give Illinois a 37-21 lead at the break.
"We're going to get back into this game one possession at a time," said Colorado coach Tad Boyle on what he told his team at halftime. "We cannot be happy with trading baskets."
Booker finally got the Colorado offense going when his third 3-pointer of the second half had it within, 39-35. Soon after, the Illini committed their third straight turnover and Scott scored at the other end to give Colorado its first lead since the early moments of the first half.