Illinois 65, Missouri 64 — FINAL
ST. LOUIS — Tracy Abrams stepped to the line with two free throws and the Braggin' Rights game on the line. Sound familiar?
On the 20th anniversary of Kiwane Garris' double-overtime misses in a Missouri victory, Abrams didn't miss.
The tough-as-they come junior was fouled with 4.6 seconds left and Illinois trailing by a point. He swished both of them to give the Illini a 65-64 victory, ending Missouri's four-game Braggin' Rights winning streak.
Longtime columnist Tom Kacich has seen a bunch of these thrillers. Where does this one rank? Ask him here
Abrams came up big all game, finishing with 22 points and six rebounds for the Illini.
Jon Ekey's three-pointer with less than a minute left gave Illinois the lead before Missouri answered with a three of their own, setting up Abrams' heroics.
Rayvonte Rice added 14 points for Illinois (10-2) in the 33rd renewal of the annual neutral-court matchup.
Jordan Clarkson had 25 points, six rebounds and a career-best eight assists for Missouri (10-1), which entered the game as the lone unbeaten school in the SEC. Earnest Ross added 13 points.
Illinois scrambled on its final possession but got a bit of a break when Abrams was fouled by Johnathan Williams III driving the lane. Abrams was 7 for 10 at the line.
Tony Criswell was long on a desperation three-pointer from well beyond the line at the buzzer.
The point total was a season-low for Missouri, which scored 72 or more its first nine games but beat Western Michigan 66-60 in its previous game.
Illinois was unranked for the pre-Christmas game for the first time in four years, and perhaps learned from a loss at No. 15 Oregon its last time out.
The last four years, the schools entered with a combined 72-7 record.
Among those attending were Hall of Fame baseball manager Whitey Herzog, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and the football coaches from both schools, Missouri’s Gary Pinkel and Illinois’ Tim Beckman.
The schools traded runs in the second half that kept it tight, 10-1 by Missouri to go up by near the midway point and 9-0 by Illinois with a pair of three-point plays by Abrams for a two-point lead with 6:17 to go.
Illinois climbed out of an early hole behind three-point shooting, hitting six of its first 10 — by six players — and led 31-27 at the half. Missouri led 8-0 and had a nine-point cushion at 15-6 after Rice’s second foul with 13:47 to go in the half.
Illinois answered with a 10-0 run the next 31/2 minutes, including three-pointers from Kendrick Nunn and Abrams, and scored seven in a row late in the half for a six-point lead ended by Clarkson’s driving basket with five seconds to go.
Bertrand 4-8 0-0 9, Abrams 7-16 7-10 22, Rice 5-13 3-6 14, Egwu 2-6 1-2 7, Ekey 3-6 0-0 8, Tate 1-4 0-0 2, Hill 0-0 0-0 0, Morgan 0-0 0-0 0, Nunn 1-4 0-0 3. Totals 23-57 11-18 65.
Williams, III 3-7 0-2 6, Clarkson 8-13 7-9 25, Brown 3-11 1-2 10, Ross 4-9 4-5 13, Rosburg 1-1 0-0 2, Clark 1-5 0-0 3, Criswell 2-3 0-0 5. Totals 22-49 12-18 64.
Halftime—Illinois 31-27. 3-Point Goals—Illinois 8-22 (Egwu 2-2, Ekey 2-5, Bertrand 1-1, Nunn 1-3, Abrams 1-4, Rice 1-6, Tate 0-1), Missouri 8-17 (Brown 3-7, Clarkson 2-3, Clark 1-1, Criswell 1-2, Ross 1-4). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Illinois 32 (Abrams, Bertrand 6), Missouri 33 (Ross 8). Assists—Illinois 7 (Bertrand 2), Missouri 13 (Clarkson 8). Total Fouls—Illinois 16, Missouri 17. A—NA.
Illinois (9-2) vs. No. 23 Missouri (10-0) — TIPOFF
Illinois players and Missouri players each tried to form a team huddle in the center-court circle about a half hour before tipoff. Illinois won that battle, taking up the bulk of the circle. Should that count for something?
No surprise, Illinois will start Tracy Abrams, Rayvonte Rice, Joseph Bertrand, Jon Ekey and Nnanna Egwu.
John Groce broke out the orange blazer today. I believe it’s the second time he’s worn it.
The ESPN production crew had a couple of Illinois fans fill in behind Jimmy Dykes and Dave O’Brien to add some versatility to the background of their opening shot.
Mannie Jackson is sitting courtside. We’re not related, unfortunately. I could use a loan.
No Illinois recruiting targets here today. Illinois couldn’t provide tickets to recruits for the game because this is considered a Missouri home game this year. Last year was Illinois’ game.
Missouri’s Tony Criswell has the Mercedes Benz logo tattooed on the front of his neck. Good decision.
Spoke to Jon Ekey’s brother Mike, a Missouri grad. He’s wearing a blur Illini polo today. “Blood is so much thicker than water,” Mike told me. He’s not unfamiliar with the whole family rivalry thing. His wife went to Kansas, so did his mom. Middle brother Geoff went to K-State. The Ekey clan has Illinois, Kansas and Missouri on lock.
Illinois (9-2) vs. No. 23 Missouri (10-0) — 4:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Rayvonte Rice and his former coach at Drake, Mark Phelps, greeted one another in front of the Illinois bench a little while ago. Rice told me they hadn’t spoken since he left Drake, but they’re good. Looked like it.
Phelps is on the Missouri staff now.
There’s a guy behind me who looks just like Nnanna Egwu. The only reason I know it’s not Nnanna is because Nnanna in on the court in uniform in front of me.
A Scottrade Center employee, who is in charge of all the building’s ushers, took the court before the doors opened with a basketball in hand. His employees began cheering. He walked to center court, faced the west basket and flipped the ball over his head toward the east basket. He just missed making the shot.
He tried three more times but never got closer. He made the shot a few years ago. It was entertaining.
Once again, I’ve got the best seat in the house. I’m seated right next to the ESPN2 crew of Jimmy Dykes and Dave O’Brien.
The ESPN table is decorated with Christmas garb. Bob Knight did this game a couple of years ago. I wonder how he would have felt about the decorations.
A mom and her son entered my hotel as I was leaving. Mom was wearing an orange and blue scarf. The son was wearing a gold Missouri Tigers t-shirt. Mom says they are from Champaign, but the youngster is conflicted.
There will be a lot of that today.
Illinois assistant cheerleading coach Kristen Gaines is conflicted today. Kristen was a cheerleader at Mizzou. She isn’t attending the game today. Probably for the best.
Make sure to check out all the links we’ve got on the right side of this page. We have plenty of Braggin’ Rights coverage all this week in The News-Gazette and on IlliniHQ. I especially enjoyed Bob Asmussen’s story on Kiwane Garris, who 20 years ago missed two free throws in the second overtime of a time game with no time on the clock.
Looking forward to seeing how Nnanna Egwu performs today. It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the Illinois big man, who has scored in double figures just once in the last five games. His best rebounding effort in that stretch was seven against IPFW.
Nnanna has been dealing with an illness, but John Groce is expecting him to bounce back soon.
Missouri’s strength is on the perimeter, so this could be a prime time for Egwu to get something going inside. Part of the problem is Egwu has been in foul trouble of late.
“It’s got to be a balance of him being aggressive and assertive with also playing hard without fouling. If you go to one extreme or the other, you go ultra aggressive and you don’t have a purpose behind your aggressiveness, then you’re going to foul,” Groce said. “If you go the other way and you’re so passive, especially on the defensive end and you’re thinking ‘Just get out of the way’ or ‘I won’t set the screen’ now you’re offense isn’t as good and your defense isn’t as good. He’s got to find the balance somewhere in the middle where he can compete and play hard without fouling. I think he’s made a ton of strides.”
Illinois (9-2) vs. No. 23 Missouri (10-0) — 4:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Good afternoon from my favorite college basketball game of the year. If you’ve never been to the Braggin’ Rights game, you need to put it on your bucket list. There’s nothing like it.
The one thing I haven’t enjoyed so much about these games of late is the weather getting down here is never pleasant. There was an ice storm one year, a blizzard another that caused the cheerleaders and band to be late. Today it rained like cats and dogs the entire drive.
I’m sure the thing most of you have not enjoyed most these last few years, besides the weather, is Illinois coming up on the losing end four years in a row. It ties the longest losing streak in the series for the Illini.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to live down the fact that we lost four straight years,” former Illini Tyler Griffey told me earlier this week. “I have faith in this year’s team, though.”
There you have it, Griffey is calling an Illini win. Vegas says the Tigers by 1.5. My super-secret formula that I use to predicts game scores had it as a tie, with Mizzou getting the edge by a few tenths of a point. It’s a toss up.
The Illini are 7-6 in the series when not ranked. They are 9-6 when facing a ranked Missouri team.
Something to watch tonight is how the players react to this electric atmosphere. Only three players on each side has ever played in the game. You don’t know how you will respond until you take the floor and feel the energy.
Malcolm Hill, from nearby Belleville, said this week he’ll be ready for it. He’s been here for about three Braggin’ Rights games, including last year’s.
Jon Ekey is the lone Illinois player from the state of Missouri. The Independence native has played in the building before in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, but never a Braggin’ Rights game.
“I know it’s a big game and I’m excited to play in it,” Ekey said. “I’ve talked to Joe and Tracy and D.J. (Richardson) and Tyler (Griffey) about it and they just let me know you’ve probably never played in a game like this, how the crowd is, what it means to everyone. It’s exciting, that’s for sure.”
Ekey’s oldest brother, Mike, is a Missouri grad and big Missouri sports fan. Jon was looking forward to seeing where his brother’s allegiances lied today.
“He hope Mizzou does well, but I think he might want me to do a lot better,” Jon said. “I thought maybe he’d sit right in the middle where it splits, but I think he decided to go with orange this year. Him and a few people back home, this is the one time out of the year they will root against Mizzou.”
The Illini just took the court. They're wearing blue.
There's a chance their coach might be wearing orange today. Stay tuned.