Johnson passes his pain to Tigers

Johnson passes his pain to Tigers

  ST. LOUIS  He looked like something out of a "Rocky" flick, but it was going to take more that a puffy eye to keep Brian Johnson out of Saturday night''s Border War.

   The Illini junior suffered a double scratch on his right cornea during a Thursday night practice, leaving his vision a little fuzzy the next day.

   He met with a doctor Friday, who recommended a little makeup before diagnosing him good to go.

   "He asked me ''Can you see?'' and I said yes," Johnson said. "He said, ''Well, you''re ugly, but you can play.'' "

   Johnson played 27 minutes, contributing seven points, four assists, two steals and a rebound. On defense, he was a pain in Kelly Thames'' neck, drawing the third foul on the Tigers star 42 seconds into the second quarter.

   Thames, Missouri''s starting center, finished with 10 points and just one rebound.

   "We''ve got a lot of guys that I think have got to learn to play within themselves," Tigers coach Norm Stewart said. "He''s one of them."

The Grimm reaper.

   Morton native Derek Grimm led Missouri with 18 points but he also sported a battle scar afterward.

   Grimm suffered what Stewart speculated might be a hyperextended elbow and played the second half with a bandage on his right elbow. It was iced after the game.

   "I''m fine, just a bruised elbow," said Grimm, apparently hurting more from the Tigers'' second straight loss to Illinois.

   Grimm''s three-point shooting  he''s especially lethal for a 6-foot-10 player  kept Missouri in the game early.

   Grimm buried 3 of 5 three-point attempts in the game but wasn''t much of a factor in the second half as the Tigers struggled to maintain order in their half-court offense.

   "We got in a hole," he said, "and we had trouble with their press at the beginning of the second half and near the end of the first half. We didn''t move the ball well enough and we weren''t patient."

Getting physical.

   Johnson was made for games like Saturday''s  an elbow-spearing, hip-thumping, body-bashing slugfest.

   "Seems to me there was an awful lot of physical play on the backboards and in the post," Stewart said.

   Just the way Illinois wanted it.

   The teams combined for 39 fouls and a few scraps, Illini senior Chris Gandy giving Missouri''s Jeff Hafer a friendly little shove in the chest after Hafer had fouled him.

   "We try to establish that every game  be tough and play harder than the opponent," Illini senior Kiwane Garris said. "That''s leaving a message out there."

Turnover troubles.

   Stewart excuses Tate Decker for his three turnovers. Decker''s a freshman.

   But the coach had no excuses for some of the Tigers'' lax ball handling. Especially Chip Walther, a senior, who committed a game-high five of the team''s 27 turnovers.

   "They weren''t all young guys (making turnovers)," Stewart said. "Some of the guys, if they go on to get their master''s, they''ll be going on Social Security."

In the doghouse?

   Missouri''s Tyron Lee took some pregame abuse from a few good-natured Illini fans but he''s probably wishing Stewart treated him as well.

   The former Illini recruit from Springfield didn''t start again and has started only one of the last five games. He finally entered the game midway in the first half.

   He finished with two points on 1-of-6 shooting.

Shoot to kill.

   Illinois hit 63 percent of its second-half shots and 53.3 for the game (32 for 60), a season-best.

   The previous best (35 for 66, 53 percent) came against Coppin State two games ago.

   Missouri''s opponents had averaged a 38.6 shooting clip from the field entering Saturday''s game but that figure will be higher now, thanks to Illinois.

   The Illini percentage is the highest allowed by Missouri this season.

   Creighton, which fell to the Tigers in overtime, shot 53.1 percent.

   Illinois'' starters were a combined 23 of 42 from the field.

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