On Saturday at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, the #12 Missouri Tigers (10-1) extended their current winning streak in the Bud Light Braggin' Rights to four with a hard-fought 82-73 victory over the #10 Illinois Fighting Illini (12-1).
Missouri rode a 58-35 rebounding advantage to victory in what was a rugged battle that saw 19 lead changes. Laurence Bowers scored 23 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to pace Missouri and offset a 23-point, 8-rebound performance by the Illini's Brandon Paul. But in the end, at least on this night, Bowers had the better supporting cast.
Coach Haith opened the game with Keion Bell and Jabari Brown in the starting line-up. But Bell spent much of the game in foul trouble, so Earnest Ross played 29 minutes and finished the night with 8 points and 6 rebounds..
A series of strong defensive stands, coupled with Phil Pressey pushing it up in transition allowed Missouri to pull away just a little toward the end of the first half, and the Tigers took a 41-35 lead into the locker room. Laurence Bowers scored 15 first-half points, and Alex Oriakhi came on late in the half to go to the locker room with 6 points and 6 rebounds. Pressey dished out 7 first-half assists against just 2 first-half turnovers, and Brown scored 11 first-half points on 3 of 6 shooting from behind the 3-PT line.
The Tigers had done a good job of defending the 3-PT line in the first half, and Illinois went to the halftime locker room 4 for 17 (24%) from behind the 3-PT line. Senior G Brandon Paul went to the locker room with 13 points, most of which had come at the FT line, as the Tigers did an effective job of running him off of the 3-PT line.
Illinois brought some fire back out onto the court in the second half, and cut into Missouri's lead with some tough, hard-nosed, physical play. For a time, the Illini matched Missouri's physical play on the boards, and they began to exploit some of their more favorable match-ups, taking the lead midway through the second half.
Red-shirt junior G Joseph Bertrand and senior F Tyler Griffey provided Illinois with offensive production during that second half run. Bertrand finished the game with 13 points and Griffey ended up with 14 points on 4 of 7 from behind the 3-PT line. The rest of the Illini shot just 4 of 25 from behind the arc, as Missouri did a good job of challenging the 3-PT line.
With 8:06 remaining in the game, Ernest Ross fouled Bertrand, and Coach Haith called a timeout with his team trailing 57-60. Coming out of the timeout, Bertrand sank both FTs to extend the Illinois lead to 62-57. A little over a minute later, 6'11" 235-pound sophomore Nanna Egwu, who finished the game with 12 points and 9 rebounds, fouled Pressey on his way to the basket, and Coach Haith re-assembled his troops during the under-eight TV timeout with his team trailing 59-62. After the timeout, Pressey sank both FTs to cut the Illini lead to one.
Coach Haith had told his team to "run their offense", which the Tigers did down the stretch, resulting in better quality shots. On the other end, Missouri defended very well, and mostly held the Illini to just one contested shot per possession. With 5:31 remaining, Ross rebounded Pressey's miss and laid it back in to put the Tigers ahead 65-64. Coach Haith called another timeout. From there, Missouri began to pull away, and they outscored the Illini 17-9 the rest of the way.
Oriakhi finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds.
Pressey scored 12 points on 3 of 19 shooting and grabbed 7 rebounds to go along with his 11 assists against 4 turnovers. On the night, Missouri collected 16 assists on their 29 made baskets.
In his first start, Brown scored 18 points in 35 minutes on 5 of 10 shooting, including 3 of 7 from behind the arc, and pulled down 7 rebounds.
The Tigers outscored Illinois 44-24 on points in the paint, and 15-10 on second-chance points. The final score was the largest lead of the game for either team.