Illinois survives Tiger comeback

After trailing by 21 in the first half, it didn't seem like there was much hope for Missouri in the Braggin' Rights game on Tuesday. But after a comeback, the bigger disappointment for the Tigers was the end of the second half rather than the start of the first.

ST. LOUIS – The buzzer sounded, and Travon Bryant headed straight for the locker room.

After this, his fourth loss to Illinois, there would be no handshakes, no "good games," no looking back at the rivals that had spoiled another chance at the Braggin' Rights title.

Bryant had done almost all he could to help the Tigers come back from a 21-point first-half deficit, but even he couldn't put a few more seconds on the clock, and when it read zero, No. 21 Illinois had escaped the Savvis Center with a 71-70 win.

"It's very disappointing," Bryant said. "Very disappointing."

No. 10 Missouri dropped to 4-2, with both its losses coming to ranked opponents on neutral courts. Bryant and Rickey Paulding led Missouri with 19 points each, and Johnson had 18.

Bryant had Missouri's biggest shot of the night, but then missed one of the Tigers' several chances at the end to perhaps change the outcome.

Bryant made a 3-pointer from past NBA range to tie it at 67 with 1:28 left, helping cap a 15-8 Missouri run. But the remainder of the game would be chaos and catastrophe for the Tigers. `

Illinois took a 69-67 lead with 57 second left when Nick Smith made a pass across the lane to an open James Augustine, who layed it in before Bryant could block it.

Missouri came back with a chance to tie or take its first lead of the game. But Paulding's pass to Johnson slipped away, and the Tigers had to foul Illinois guard Dee Brown, who entered the game making a mere a mere 7-of-13 free throw attempts, with 39.4 seconds left. And Brown missed both of his free throws, giving the Tigers another chance.

"All along, I just knew we were going to win this game," said guard Jimmy McKinney. It just didn't matter. I had a feeling we were going to win this game."

The next play again went to Johnson, but his shot went off the rim to Brown, whom Johnson fouled with 19.7 to foul out.

With another chance, Brown made both free throws to give Illinois a 71-67 lead. The Tigers rushed down the floor, and McKinney's 3-pointer missed, but the Tigers came out of a bunched group in the lane with the rebound. Paulding slid a pass to Bryant in the lane, who missed with about eight seconds left. The ball went out to McKinney, who made a 3-pointer, but with only seven-tenths of a second left.

"I think at that point, there was a sense of urgency that we really needed the get the ball and we needed to score," Paulding said. "Unfortunately, we were one point short."

The inbound pass went to Brown, who pointed to the Missouri half of the crowd as time expired.

"This is hard," McKinney said. "It's hard to lose these type of games. To lose it, it's hard."

In the first half, it didn't seem as if the Tigers would come this close. Illinois controlled the half, even starting with its initial 4-0, 9-4, and 25-9 leads. Missouri made only three of its first 12 shots, and turned the ball over four times in the first eight minutes.

Meanwhile, Illinois was shooting dead on and taking advantage of their transition opportunities. Behind strong opening play from Roger Powell and freshman Richard McBride, the Illini eventually opened up a 40-19 lead.

"The thing we have to understand is when we're playing against good teams like this, they're not going to let you fight back," said Jason Conley, who didn't score in his second game as a Tiger. "You may cut the lead down to 10, but when you're down that much, the real good teams will not let you come back."

The Tigers whittled that lead down to 42-28 at the end of the first half, a half that was especially frustrating for McKinney and backup point guard Randy Pulley. The two combined for zero points while totaling five turnovers to only one assist. In the second half, they would struggle again, but the seniors Paulding, Johnson and Bryant led Missouri back.

Bryant made the first four points of the half, and then made a 3-pointer with 16:25 left to get Missouri within 10. The Illini were able to keep the lead between seven and 10, though, until McKinney made a fadeaway with 7: 51 left to make it 57-52.

Four minutes later, Paulding made two free throws to make it 64-60, and then a Bryant steal on defense lead to a Johnson basket to bring Missouri within two for the first time since the opening minutes.

A minute and a half later, Bryant made the 3-pointer to tie it at 67, the longest shot he's made all season, and a shot that seemed to give the Tigers all the momentum.

"Bryant was just hitting shot after shot," Brown said.


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