A rookie head coach had never lost the game, so Missouri head coach Mike Anderson had a streak of his own to fall back on. Ten lead changes and six ties later, Illinois escaped from the Scottrade Center in downtown St. Louis with a hard-fought 73-70 victory.
"This is what the game's about," said Weber. "I'm smiling because we won, he's frowning because he lost, it was a great game, and a great game for the fans. It was a good experience for our kids."
The game was back and forth from the very start. Illinois' Rich McBride hit a three pointer to open the scoring, and Missouri's Stefhon Hannah answered with a three of his own. The teams traded punches through most of the first half, then Missouri went on an 18-10 run to establish their largest lead of the game at 36-30 with 4 minutes left in the half. Missouri's run was fueled by Hannah, who hit a pair of threes, and Glen Dandridge and Keon Lawrence also hit from deep during the run. Illinois' Shaun Pruitt kept the game close, hitting from inside on three straight possessions to keep Missouri within sight. "We knew that if we could get into our half-court offense, (Shaun) could score," said Weber. "(Purdue's Marcus) Landry did it against them, and we thought we could too."
Missouri held a 38-35 lead in the half, mainly due to Hannah, who had 12 points and 2 assists in the half. Illinois could not stop Missouri's dribble penetration in the half, and either fouled the ball or gave up good looks on the kickout passes. Missouri hit 52% of their shots in the half, including 5-10 from behind the arc. Illinois got 10 from Pruitt in the half, and Warren Carter added 7 in 14 minutes.
The second half was much like the first, with neither team able to establish a run. Illinois managed to stretch the lead to 6 with about 7 minutes left, but 3's by Hannah and Matt Lawrence kept Missouri within striking distance. Missouri closed to within a point on two free throws by Lawrence, but a pair of clutch free throws by Rich McBride and another set by Chester Frazier, sandwiching a key block on Hannah by Brian Randle, pushed the lead back out to 5 with less than a minute to go. Leo Lyons of Missouri hit a pair of charity tosses to close it to 3, and after Chester Frazier missed two free throws with 27 seconds left, Jamar Smith pulled down a critical offensive rebound and was fouled. Smith his both of his free throw attempts, but Hannah responded by driving the length of the court for a layup. Missouri forced a turnover in the backcourt with under 5 seconds to go, but Hannah lost control of the ball while attempting to get free for a game-tying three, and Illinois held on for the victory.
The Illini were led in scoring by Pruitt, who finished with a career-high 19 points, and also led the team with 9 rebounds. Jamar Smith added 17 points, but struggled with his shooting, going 5-14 from the field and 4-11 from behind the arc.
Pruitt knew that he could contribute against the smaller Tigers. "I think score all the time. Sometimes I don't do a good job of passing it out. I think when I get the ball inside that I'm gonna score on someone."
Hannah led Missouri's scoring with a career high 23 points. No other Tiger hit double figures.
A topic in pregame discussions was how Illinois would handle the Missouri full court pressure. The Illini responded well, with only 14 turnovers for the game, and only one turnover against the press. Missouri, who averaged almost 12 steals/game going in, only managed to get 6 against Illinois. "We did a great job against the press," said Weber. "I think we only turned it over one time, at the end, on the jump ball. I was really afraid against the press."