Illini earn Braggin' Rights over Missouri

News-DemocratDecember 21, 2013 

— A busted play by Illinois led to broken hearts for the Missouri Tigers on Saturday.

Junior Tracy Abrams sank two free throws with 4.6 seconds to play as the Illini upset the 23rd-ranked Tigers 65-64 in the 33rd annual Braggin' Rights game before 21,987 at Scottrade Center.

After nearly losing the ball on the baseline, junior Rayvonte Rice found Abrams on the top of the key. Abrams drove the lane and was fouled by freshman Johnathan Williams III.

"I was very confident," said the 6-foot-2 Abrams, whose 22 points led Illinois (10-2). "We shoot free throws every day in practice. I had the confidence in my shot, so I went up to the line and I was pretty confident I would make them."

Rice scored 14 points and senior Joseph Bertrand had nine as the Illini tasted victory over Missouri for the first time since 2008.

Missouri (10-1), which went ahead 64-63 lead on junior Jabari Brown's 3-pointer from the right corner with 15 seconds to play, got a game-high 25 points from junior Jordan Clarkson. Senior Earnest Ross had 13 points and Brown had 10 points and seven rebounds.

After Abrams' two free throws put Illinois on top, Missouri's inbounds pass was fumbled in the backcourt by Clarkson, who was supposed to take the final shot.

Clarkson recovered the loose ball and passed to senior Tony Criswell, whose 35-footer was off the mark as the horn sounded.

"Ray was up there and (Clarkson) might have heard a couple of footsteps," said Illinois senior Jon Ekey. "We didn't want him to get a head of steam going because he had been getting to the paint a lot. Ray might have scared him a little bit. That was huge.

"There was still plenty of time to get a decent shot, but when he bobbled it, that helped us a lot. (Criswell) could have hit it; he's a decent shooter. It was a good look, but out of the people they had on the floor, we were glad he was shooting it."

Missouri coach Frank Haith said Criswell's poor pass to Clarkson left the Tigers in scramble mode.

"Tony didn't make a good pass," he said. "I thought if we had gotten the play off clean, (Clarkson) would have had a chance to make a play."

It was the first one-point game in the celebrated series since Illinois won 59-58 in 2007. Since 1997, 10 of the 17 games have been decided by six or fewer points.

Second-year Illinois coach John Groce was proud of his team's toughness down the stretch, and said the win was an early Christmas present for graduated seniors D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul, Tyler Griffey, Sam McLaurin and Kevin Berardini.

"That was a high-level game," Groce said. "That's a good basketball team that we were fortunate to beat. We've got great respect for them. They've got good players and they're a good team. That's a heck of a win for us.

"I'm proud of these guys for the plays they made at the end. I couldn't help but think of the five seniors from last year that were on the team. We did it for those guys as well as the guys on the current team this year. ... I thought we were tough and together."

Missouri was strong at the start, rolling to leads of 8-0 and 15-6. Illinois scored the next 10 points, moving ahead for the first time at 16-15 on Rice's basket off a turnover. The Illini closed the half with a 10-4 run to lead 31-27 at the break.

The Tigers seemed to take control when Clarkson weaved through the lane for a layup that put Missouri ahead 53-46 with 9:01 left. Illinois responded with 9-0 charge that featured seven points by Abrams, whose 15-footer made gave the Illini a 55-53 lead.

Clarkson hit a 3-pointer to give Missouri a 56-55 lead with 4:36 remaining, but Rice's driving layup and two free throws by Abrams put the Illini in the lead at 59-56 with 2:52 to play.

Illinois led 63-61 when Rice hit one of two free throws with 23.7 seconds left. After a Missouri timeout, Brown nailed his 3-pointer that set up the Illini's winning trip down the floor.

"It was a hard-fought game," Haith said. "It was an extremely, extremely physical game, particularly there in the second half. Give Illinois credit. They were more physical than us in terms of loose balls they came up with, second shots. That was the difference."

Contact reporter David Wilhelm at dwilhelm@bnd.com or 239-2665.

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