ST. LOUIS — The Scotttrade Center was full. One side painted with Illinois orange, the other in gold with speckles of black.
As the colors wrapped around the curves of the oval arena, they stretched behind their respective team’s benches, then straightened out when they hit the horizontal side of the court.
Then, in the middle of sections 103 and 116, they met. The colors formed a perfect line vertically from the floor to the top of the building on both sides of the building. From the top to the bottom, Missouri fans found themselves next to the Illinois faithful.
Among the people on the dividing line were a cardiologist from Festus, Mo., and a plant supervisor from Sullivan, Ill.
“We are on the equator,” Jeff Reese said.
Dressed in a bright yellow Missouri jacket and matching Missouri hat, Reese arrived at the game with his family only to realize he would be sitting next to an Illini fan.
“It was the luck of the draw,” said Greg Dickens, who came to the game dressed in a checkered orange collared shirt.
At the start of the game the men were strangers, but they developed a friendship in the midst of an intense rivalry.
"I’ve had to break them up like four times,” Greg’s wife, Micah Dickens joked.
Throughout the game, boos rained down and shouted obscenities could be heard from seats around the court, but the two men in the middle remained generally calm.
“We’re realistic fans," Reese said.
While watching, the men chatted back and forth, one nudging the other when his team made a big play. From the floor, it looked like they had been friends for years. And while they were not overly dramatic, it wasn’t because they weren’t interested.
“The back and forth, one shot made and one shot made the other direction. There’s really nothing like it,” Dickens said.
With the score tied 27-27 at half, the reserved nature of both men kept them from taking a guess about the outcome of the game.
“It’s too early to make a prediction,” Dickens said.
The statement turned out to be a wise one. The outcome of the game was not decided until the final half minute of the game.
With barely more than a minute to play, both men were out of their seats, standing side by side. Reese joined in with the MIZ-ZOU chant that was surging through his side of the crowd.
Then, Laurence Bowers made a layup, drawing an intentional foul to seal the Missouri win. After the play, Dickens leaned toward Reese, who could only shrug his shoulders while he smiled.
As calmly as the two men met, they parted ways. Soon after Bowers scored, Dickens directed his family toward the exit, leaving the arena before the crowd could begin to disperse. Reese and his smile remained, choosing to watch his team celebrate.