ST. LOUIS — Illinois freshman Malcolm Hill won't forget his first Braggin' Right game.
The 6-foot-6 graduate of Belleville East High School on Saturday celebrated with his teammates after their 65-64 victory over No. 23 Missouri at Scottrade Center. The win that snapped the Illini's four-game losing streak in the series.
"It was fun," said Hill, who played just four minutes and had one steal. "It was a really good experience. I'm happy we took one home."
Hill watched the game from behind the Illini bench last season when Missouri won 82-73. He said being that close to the action helped him prepare for the intensity of the game.
"I'm glad I got to know what it was going to be like heading into the game," said Hill, who was happy to contribute any way he could. "I just do what they ask me to do on the defensive end and play my hardest when I get in the game."
Coach John Groce said Hill has grasped Illinois' defensive concepts enough to get him on the floor. Hill averages more than 10 minutes of playing time per game.
"I know (playing defense) will get me on the court," Hill said. "Learning the defensive end (is important), especially since I'm playing a new position. I'm playing a four (forward), so I have to learn that real quick and I think I've done a good job so far.
"(Coaches) have taught me a lot of things on the defensive end. I'm just learning. I'm only a freshman. There are a lot of things people don't understand. I think I'm having a better season as a college freshman than I did as a high-school freshman."
Hill called the final moments of the game "nerve-racking."
Missouri's Jabari Brown hit a 3-pointer with 15 seconds to play to put the Tigers ahead 64-63.
The Illini's Rayvonte Rice nearly lost the ball on the next possession, but managed to get a pass to Tracy Abrams, who was fouled in the lane and made two free throws with 4.6 seconds to play.
After a botched inbounds play, a 3-pointer by Tony Criswell was way off the mark as the horn sounded.
"It was bad that we gave up the 3 (by Brown), because that was one thing we stressed in the huddle: 'Don't get up the 3,'" Hill said. "But they got one.
"At the end, I had faith in my team. We've been through those situations. That's why we did all the training in the summertime -- preparing for situations like this. We got the job done."
Last year when the Illini lost their fourth in a row against Missouri, they hurt for seniors D.J. Richardson, Tyler Griffey, Brandon Paul, Sam McLaurin and walk-on Kevin Berardini.
Richardson, Griffey and Paul had been mainstays on the team for four years, yet were shut out in their careers against Missouri.
On Saturday, Hill said it was important for the Illini to get a victory for senior Joseph Bertrand and Jon Ekey.
"They haven't won one before, so we wanted them to have one win for them against Mizzou in their career. Emotions were real high," Hill said. "I'm glad as a freshman that I'm 1-0 against Mizzou. It's a really fun experience, especially holding the trophy at the end with all my teammates."
Hill's parents, Malcolm and Machanda were in the crowd for the game, as were some of his cousins and friends.
"I just wanted to help them enjoy the experience instead of watching it on TV," said Hill, who will celebrate Christmas with his family in Belleville before rejoining the Illini.
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.