ST. LOUIS –- The bottom line in Missouri’s loss to Illinois on Tuesday was the free-throw line.
The Illini won bragging rights with a 71-70 win despite hitting only 57.6 percent of their foul shots.
They made 19-of-33 foul shots Tuesday night, but the Illini did not miss when it counted.
Illinois point guard Dee Brown’s only second-half points came from the free-throw line in the last two minutes.
With 1:47 left, the Tigers’ Jason Conley committed his fourth foul and sent Brown to the line for the first time since the 8:30 mark in the first half. Brown sunk both and extended the Illini lead to 67-63.
A minute later, Brown was back at the line after Missouri’s Rickey Paulding’s second foul. With 39 seconds left, both of Brown’s free throws hit the back of the rim and rolled out. His chance to seal an Illinois upset shrank, and the Tigers trailed 69-66.
As time wound down, Tigers center Arthur Johnson scrambled for a rebound, but his fifth foul gave Brown another chance to close out the game.
Brown’s shot didn’t waver this time at the line. He sank both, ending any Tiger hopes of a win as Illinois led 71-66.
The Illini missed six foul shots in the last five minutes, but one point was all they needed.
Linas Kleiza fouled out with a little more than four minutes left and sent Illinois forward Brian Randle to the line.
Randle missed both shots, but less than a second later, Johnson picked up his fourth foul. Johnson reached over Illinois’ Nick Smith for the rebound, and Smith made him pay for the mistake. He sank his second shot after missing his first, pushing the Illinois lead to 64-58.
Bryant’s fourth foul put Smith back at the line. He made one to make it 66-63.
Smith said knocking down foul shots gave the Illini confidence to hold on their lead.
“As a whole, we’ve struggled shooting from the line,” Smith said. “I was even down on myself for missing two.”
Before Tuesday’s game, Smith led the Illini with 78.6 percent free-throw shooting.
Against the Tigers, he missed two. The two he made kept the Illini ahead.
The Tigers’ 75.9 percent free-throw shooting was the closest they came in to meeting their unprecedented 23-for-25 effort against Oakland in the season-opening game.
Still, the free throw opportunities they gave away hurt them more than their own misses.
Brown said the Illini knew this game would come down to which team made the most clutch plays late.
The Illini made fewer free throws in both of their losses this season. In their 70-51 loss to Providence on Dec. 9, the Illini made 3-of-8 free throws. When the Illini faced Missouri, forward James Augustine said his team made a point to get the Tigers in foul trouble.
“Coach (Bruce Weber) emphasized that all week, to get them in foul trouble,” Augustine said. “We got them in foul trouble right away.”
By the game’s end, two Tigers fouled out and two others had four.
“It was a deciding factor in the game,” Snyder said. “We weren’t able to give guys a little bit of rest here and there. That’s not an excuse for us. A lot of the reason we got fouls was because we were not as alert as we needed to be defensively.”
When the final buzzer sounded, Illinois won that dispute with free throws.
“In college, everyone’s going to get a run, and they got a run,” Brown said. “It comes down in the end to who makes plays.”