ST. LOUIS — Illinois' biggest fears were realized Saturday in its Braggin' Rights game against Missouri.
The Tigers outrebounded the Illini 58-35 and scored 44 points in the paint in an 82-73 victory before 22,139 at Scottrade Center.
It was the fourth consecutive victory in the series for the 12th-ranked Tigers (10-1), who erased the Illini's 62-57 lead with a 13-2 run in a 3 1/2-minute span late in the second half.
Complicating matters for the perimeter-oriented Illini (12-1) was a dreadful showing from the 3-point line. Illinois was 8-for-32 from beyond the arc, with many of the shots out of sync.
"We want to shoot good 3s," first-year Illinois coach John Groce said. "I don't think our quality of 3s tonight was great, to be honest. How do you get the best 3s? This isn't brain surgery. You get them in transition, you get offensive-rebound kickouts, you get them off a post touch, you get them off drive and kick or you get them off some type of set play you run to put them at a disadvantage. Tonight, I thought a lot of our 3s weren't coming from those means as much as they have been in the past."
The Illini didn't come close to matching Missouri's superior size and strength in the low blocks. Connecticut transfer Alex Oriakhi, a strapping 6-foot-9, 255-pound senior, had 13 points and a game-best 14 rebounds. Laurence Bowers, a 6-8 senior who didn't play in the game last season because he was recovering from an injury, had 23 points and 10 rebounds.
Sophomore Jabari Brown, who became eligible last week after transferring early last season from Oregon, made his first start of the year and scored 18 points.
Junior point guard Phil Pressey, meanwhile, whom Groce feared the most, was a huge factor. Pressey was just 3-for-19 from the floor and had 12 points, but his 11 assists led to a number of easy baskets for the Tigers.
"I just tried to stay in attack mode," said Pressey, who chipped in with seven rebounds despite being the smallest player on the floor at 5-11. "If I'm not hitting my shot, I'm trying to get my guys involved as well. Even though I was missing those shots, I felt like it was an opportunity for our bigs to clean up those misses.
"My dad always told me, 'If you can't pass it, just throw it up there and your bigs will get a rebound.' When I see a big come over, I know if I can get it on the rim, I have guys like Laurence and the rest of the bigs to clean that up."
Tigers coach Frank Haith rolled his eyes as Pressey revealed his personal strategy for success.
"We can't let anybody know that's our game plan," Haith cracked.
Haith, on a more serious note, was impressed with his team in dealing the 10th-ranked Illini their first loss.
"It was a great win for us," he said. "I thought our guys showed great toughness down the stretch. The stats I look at that were important to us were our ability to continue to rebound the ball -- which allowed us to get 44 points in the paint --and our ability to take away the 3-point line. I thought we did a really good job in both those areas."
Illinois, which trailed 41-35 at halftime, forged a 62-57 lead on Joseph Bertrand's two free throws with 8:06 left. That's when Missouri broke free, scoring 13 of 15 points, including six by Brown.
Missouri entered the game with a 13.3 rebounding margin against opponents, which ranked third in the nation. But even Groce couldn't envision being outrebounded by 23.
"We're disappointed we got beat 58-35 on the glass," he said. "They're good at it and they're big and they've got depth. A lot of them happened in scramble situations. I thought they got us in rotation a lot."
The loss meant the Illini seniors never tasted victory against Missouri, a sore spot for players like Tyler Griffey and Brandon Paul.
"I would have liked to go out with one, that's for sure," said Griffey, a St. Louis County native who scored 14 points. "But hats off to Mizzou. They came ready to play and like Coach said, they executed better than us. But I'm happy with the way our team played. We battled.
"It was an unbelievable environment. Growing up and going to this game every year, it was something I looked forward to. I'm just happy I was able to be a part of it."
Paul led the Illini with 23 points, but was 5-for-18 from the field and 2-for-8 on 3-pointers. Bertrand had 13 points off the bench and sophomore Nnanna Egwu had 12 points and a team-high nine rebounds.
Senior guard D.J. Richardson was held to seven points and was 3-for-13 from the field.
Illinois was charged with just seven turnovers --Missouri had 12 --although Groce pointed out that the low number was the result of too many shots early in possessions.
Paul said the Illini will be ready to return to the court against Auburn on Saturday at United Center in Chicago.
"We fought," Paul said of the loss to Missouri. "We never give up on games. We still have a lot of basketball to play. You've got to have a short-term memory."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.