ST. LOUIS — From the start of the pregame drills until the last minute of Wednesday night’s men’s basketball game against Illinois, not one Missouri player cracked a smile.
Unlike the Illinois players, who were goofing around having dunk contests and chanting “Whoop, there it is” at center court, Missouri was all business. After all, it was facing an opponent it hadn’t beaten in nine years.
Missouri used that focus to beat Illinois 81-68 on Wednesday night at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. Missouri hasn’t had much to brag about in the last decade of the Braggin’ Rights series, but Wednesday night it finally won. Missouri's speed and athleticism was too much for Illinois causing 22 turnovers. It turned a game that started off as a back-and-forth battle, into an easy victory for the Tigers.
Missouri, which led most of the game, used a 14-4 run in the second half to pull away from the Illini. Kim English, who had a game-high 24 points, made an acrobatic layup over the 7-foot-1 Illinois center to help make what was once a seven-point lead into a 13 point advantage. The layup made what was a near sellout crowd split evenly orange and gold, seem like it was a home game for Missouri. Chants of "M-I-Z-Z-O-U" drowned out any of the Illini chants. Freshman Mike Dixon, who started in place of Zaire Taylor, who was sick with the flu, also scored 10 of his 16 points in the second half.
Despite the height advantage Illinois had, it couldn't get things going in the post. Center Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis often missed dunks and easy layups because of fatigue.
Illinois, which also started two freshmen guards, looked lost and confused most of the game. At one point, it just threw the ball out of bounds with no one in sight. Missouri capitalized, scoring 25 of its 81 points off turnovers.
Missouri was also able to use that pressure to get out to a 5-0 start. A far cry from the 2-8 start it had last season. It took Illinois three minutes to score its first points, and five minutes until another player other than junior Demetri McCamey to score.
However, The Tigers traded points with Illinois throughout the first half until senior J.T. Tiller made a layup that kicked off a 13 point run. That layup kicked off a flurry of three pointers by Kim English and Miguel Paul that gave Missouri a 10 point lead that it never relinquished.
Finally, with the trophy in their sweaty and dirty hands at center court, the Tigers were able to smile.