ST. LOUIS — The streak is over.
Missouri outlasted Illinois on Saturday night at the Enterprise Center, 79-63, ending the Illini’s Braggin’ Rights winning streak at five.
“Give Missouri a lot of credit,” said Illinois Head Coach Brad Underwood. “They made just about every play in the last seven minutes. Up to that point, it was an extremely good college basketball game... I thought the last seven minutes is an area we have to continue to grow in.”
Illinois (4-8) needed this win in the worst way. With only one more game before conference play starts up again, this certainly isn’t the position the team wanted to be in at this time of the year. The only Big Ten program besides Illinois ranked lower than Missouri? Rutgers, and the Scarlet Knights are only on the schedule once. Illinois is in danger of not reaching double-digit wins for the first time since 1975.
As expected, both teams came out ready to go on Saturday night. Illinois was able to find a groove early behind some stout defense and turning that defense into offense.
“We had a game plan for every player,” Underwood said. “We didn’t take it further than that... College basketball needs more [rivalries], and this is one of the great ones.”
Trent Frazier went 5-of-6 from behind the arc in the first half to lead the way with 17 points. But Missouri (8-3) found a spark in Jordan Geist. The senior hit back-to-back-to-back three-pointers to put the Tigers on top midway through the first. He poured in a team-high 20 points, and added seven assists and six rebounds.
“Geist is our leader,” said Missouri sophomore Jeremiah Tilmon. “He likes to lead. He was leading us through cramps... He fought through it. He hit those three shots, and that got our momentum going.”
Illinois struggled in its half-court defense, allowing Missouri to find easy buckets both under the rim and on the perimeter.
The Illini were able to clean things up a bit in the second half, limiting their turnovers and staying out of foul trouble. But they were unable to figure out Missouri’s pick-and-roll game, resulting in many easy baskets for the Tigers. Frazier’s hot hand continued to flourish after the break, finishing with a game-high 28, but he, Andres Feliz and Kipper Nichols all missed key free throws down the stretch. The duo of Javon Pickett and Tilmon also shined for the Tigers, combining for 32 points and 16 rebounds. Missouri capitalized on Illinois’ mistakes, building a 12-point lead with under four minutes to go, and ultimately, riding that advantage to victory.
“There’s no greater play than free throws,” Underwood said. “We had a 500-free throw week. We told each guy they had to make 500 free throws and record them... It was unfortunate, and it cost us.”
TWEET OF THE GAME
Regardless of the score, this game has demonstrated that Trent Frazier is better than Mark Smith.— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) December 23, 2018
HE SAID IT
#Illini Underwood: This game is fun. It's what it should be about. I've said it many times. Great to have it in this city. Two programs that have tremendous history. When you get that, you're going to have passionate fans and passionate players.— TK (@TKissack20) December 23, 2018
MOMENTS THAT MATTER
- Within the first two minutes of the contest, freshman Ayo Dosunmu was whistled for a personal foul, and then, assessed a technical for an exchange with Geist. His foul trouble made him a non-factor, logging just five first half minutes.
- Fellow freshman Samba Kane was productive in limited minutes. The Senegal native didn’t shy away from Missouri’s Jeremiah Tilmon, even stepping over and staring down the big man after a foul call.
Illinois gets one last chance at a non-conference win next Saturday when it hosts Florida Atlantic.
The Owls (8-4) have lost three of their last five, but will be a force on the glass, averaging 42 rebounds a night.
Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. CT.