ST. LOUIS – Battered and blistered, Chester Frazier carefully walked out of the Illinois locker room late Tuesday. With a 1-0 record against Missouri as a starting point guard.
"I've got three blisters on my toes, but I'm fine," Frazier said.
Frazier's numbers didn't scream "star of the game." He was 2 of 8 from the field, missed a pair of free throws and had three turnovers. But his teammates said they wouldn't have won without Frazier's 40 hard minutes. Or his six assists. Or his two three-pointers.
"He battled the whole game," Illinois guard Trent Meacham said. "They've been turning over teams like crazy. He did a great job against that."
"The thing about Chester is there aren't a lot of players like him," Illini center Shaun Pruitt said. "He doesn't have to score a lot to take over the game. He was instrumental for us tonight. He has a lot of heart."
Tuesday's win helps in the future. Both for Frazier and the Illini.
"We're going to have a lot more close games," Frazier said. "We've got a tough road ahead of us with Xavier coming up. Not looking past Idaho State. Then, the Big Ten play starts. This is preparation for that."
Late in the game, Frazier got a break when he stepped to the line and missed a crucial free throw. The Tigers were called for a lane violation, giving Frazier a second chance. He made both shots to give his team a five-point lead.
"I need to make the first one so the ref won't have to make that call," Frazier said.
With 27 seconds left and his team up three, Frazier missed two free throws. The second was tipped by teammate Brian Randle and grabbed by Jamar Smith.
"Thank you, Brian. Thank you, Jamar, if you're listening," Frazier said. "They saved my butt a little bit."
Frazier can't wait to repay the favor. And he can't wait until his aching feet start to heal. He's got blisters on his toes.
"We've got to get some guys healthy again and get myself healthy," Frazier said. "We've just got to continue to keep playing hard."
Ruling the Tigers
Barring an unlikely rematch in the NCAA tournament, Rich McBride finished his Illinois career with a perfect record against Missouri. So did Warren Carter. And Marcus Arnold.
"That's a great honor, to go down in history as never losing this prestigious game," McBride said. "It was real fun."
McBride scored five points, missing 5 of 6 shots from the field. But he had a key assist late in the game, finding Smith out of the corner of his eye for an important three-pointer.
"I saw where they lost Jamar," McBride said. "He did what he does, and he made the shot.
"You can't score a bunch every night. I'm just trying to do the little things right now."
New Missouri coach Mike Anderson, a disciple of former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson, has the Tigers using fullcourt pressure. It wasn't a problem for the Illini on Tuesday, McBride said.
"I think we did a great job of spacing and not trying to dribble through their press, just passing it through," McBride said.
"It didn't really bother us," Frazier said. "We were prepared since last week for it."
Carter had 12 points and five rebounds before leaving the game late with a hip injury. Arnold scored two points in seven minutes.
The seniors are proud of the record against Missouri.
"This being my last time playing here, I wanted to go out with a win," Arnold said. "After the way we won last year, they came out and competed today."
The seniors are 11-2 in their final season.
"We're just trying to keep the momentum going into the Big Ten," Arnold said.
Better than Phoenix
The atmosphere Tuesday reminded Pruitt of the game against Arizona in Phoenix. Only, without the loss.
"It was definitely a fun game," Pruitt said. "It was more exciting than Arizona because the outcome was better. It's definitely one of the most exciting games of the year."
Pruitt played a big part in the Illinois win Tuesday, scoring 19 points and pulling down a game-high nine rebounds.
"They did a good job of getting me the inside touches," Pruitt said. "That's why I had the game I did."
Pruitt kept his team close in the first half. Without his 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, Missouri's lead would have been larger than 38-35.
Before the game, the Illini didn't talk about the winning streak against Missouri. But they did find some motivation in, surprise, a newspaper.
"We saw a lot of comments that (the Tigers) said in the newspaper," Pruitt said. "They were a little bit on the cocky side. That got us fired up. And the other thing was we didn't wantthe seniors to go out losing this game.
"I hope we can keep like that next year when I'm a senior."
Up close, personal
Meacham had been to the Braggin' Rights game before ... as a fan. On Tuesday, the former Centennial star got to see what it was like to play against Missouri.
"It was definitely an unbelievable atmosphere," Meacham said. "You have it split down, half and half, Missouri, Illinois. You don't really get that in any other game."
It was like Centennial-Champaign Central. Times 10.
Meacham played a solid nine minutes in the first half, pulling down two rebounds, getting two steals and earning one assist.
"I can always play better," Meacham said. "I'm just happy that we won. Whatever I can do to help the team, that's what I'm trying to do."
Missouri led by six points late in the first half and by three at intermission. Meacham said the team never panicked.
"They made their run, and we had to stick with it," Meacham said. "Our defense wasn't that great tonight. We made the plays down the stretch to win, and that's what counts."