Cold Shooting Illini Lose Braggin' Rights

The Fighting Illini basketball team, battling toe to toe all game, collapsed at the end to give 9th ranked Missouri a 75-64 win at the Braggin' Rights game in St. Louis Wednesday night. The Illini never could find their shooting eye but kept the game close with defensive intensity. Mistakes and an inability to close out the game haunted them.

Illinois battled with everything it had, but shots caromed off the board repeatedly, preventing proper rewards for their efforts. For the game, the Illini shot only 38.7%, 28.7% from the three point line. Worse yet, they hit only 5 of 12 free throws. Weber knew Missouri would be tough to beat, so his frustration was more about the game prior to this one against UIC.

"It was a totally different game than last Saturday. That's the one I'm mad about. I'm not made about this. We played with enthusiasm, we played with energy, we fought. If we could make a couple layups and some free throws it might help. Saturday is when we let ourselves down.

"We competed, that's not the problem. We had a chance, but we have to learn to finish."

Weber gave credit to the Tigers, who are accustomed to putting extra pressure on opponents at the end of games when it counts most.

"They have great activity, they come at you all the time at the end of the game. They're quick, they're aggressive down the stretch. We didn't cut hard enough, we're tired. We make the casual pass and don't make plays, they drove us down the stretch."

Mike Davis found his shooting stroke, scoring 17 points on 7 for 13 shooting. But Mike Tisdale, Demetri McCamey and D.J. Richardson were a combined 2 for 16 in the first half. They warmed up somewhat second half but still hit only 13 of 34 shots. McCamey finished with 14 points, Tisdale 9 and Richardson 7.

Tisdale had a great night on the boards, grabbing 13 including 8 on the offensive end. But he couldn't put the ball back into the hole on his second chance opportunities. As a team, the Illini outrebounded the smaller Tigers by 9 and were 10 better on offensive rebounds. Weber pointed that out, although somewhat sarcastically.

"We had 19 offensive rebounds; the fans should love it. We outrebounded them. We kicked their butts. But we have to score when we get it."

McCamey entered the game with a head cold, so that and playing 39 minutes slowed him to a crawl at times. He often dribbled on the perimeter instead of penetrating or getting his teammates into their offense. And a couple careless passes near the end may have resulted from fatigue. He ended with 6 assists but also had four turnovers.

The Illini had grabbed a 57-54 lead on a three by McCamey and a Richardson jumper, a score they took into the under-four minute timeout. But Missouri scored 20 of the last 27 points. The final 11 point differential was its biggest lead of the game.

Controversy swirled around the Scottrade Center under the one minute mark. After a Richardson three brought the Illini to within one point at 62-61, the Tigers struck quickly with a long pass to Laurence Bowers for a layup. Mike Tisdale pushed him in the back on the shot and was called for an intentional foul.

Bowers hit both free throws, and Marcus Denmon then drove an open lane for a layup. Weber, yelling demonstrably at the officials after the intentional foul call, was then whistled for a technical of his own. Bowers missed the free throws, but Missouri had scored 8 points in 9 seconds to gain a 70-61 lead. That was the ball game.

Weber explained the reason for his anger.

"I told the head of the officials in the country last year, how can you let fouls come at the end of the game that are all intentional, and you call that. The game was too well played, too hard-fought. You can't have that play be the call.

"In essence he probably made the right call. But there's a thousand of them in the game, and they don't ever call them."

Freshman Jereme Richmond started his first game instead of Bill Cole. Weber explained he did it for matchup reasons and the fact Richmond could help handle the ball against pressure. Richmond missed part of the game with foul trouble, ending with five points and 7 rebounds.

Brandon Paul, injured late in the UIC game, saw 20 minutes of action playing on a sprained ankle. He finished with 7 points, four boards and two assists, but he was also cold from the field.

The Illini now have some time off before Christmas.

"We have three full days," Weber reminds. "They probably need a break, I need a break. We've got to come home and get our heads cleared up a little bit. Come back and get ready for Iowa."

The 10-3 Illini must begin the Big 10 season on a two game losing streak. Iowa is in the first year with a new head coach and lacks the talent of several other conference schools. But the Illini need a win, any kind of win according to Weber.

"Iowa is the most important game of the year. It doesn't matter about records. We've got to come to play on the road and get our confidence back."

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