ST. LOUIS –- Missouri’s play in the second half was good enough to win, but unfortunately for the Tigers, their play in the first left much to be desired.
Furious play in the final 10 minutes from Missouri couldn’t make up for a sluggish first half as Illinois withstood a late rally to win its fourth straight in the Braggin’ Rights series 71-70 on Tuesday.
Sophomore point guard Dee Brown led Illinois with 18 points and six assists and sealed the victory with four free throws in the final 1:47.
“Truthfully, right now we’re not good enough (to just flip a switch),” MU forward Travon Bryant said. “It has to be on for the whole 40 minutes. Once we find that level, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
The No. 11 Tigers (4-2) held Illinois’ offense to two field goals and 12 points in the final 7:23.
Bryant hit an NBA-range 3-pointer with 1:30 left to tie the score at 67. The tie was the game’s first after Illinois had led the entire way. No. 11 Illinois (7-2), as it did all night, responded to the basket, though. Junior forward Nick Smith found sophomore forward James Augustine alone underneath for a basket.
With the score 69-67, MU’s Rickey Paulding committed a turnover on the next possession, but the score didn’t change, for Brown missed two free throws. Arthur Johnson had the Tigers’ next chance to tie, but his shot went in and out. Brown was again fouled and made both free throws to give Illinois a 71-67 lead.
“You can’t come out flat,” Paulding said. “Against a good team like Illinois, you can’t be down 20. We almost won the game. We executed and played defense the way we want to in the second half, but they’re a good team. It was too late.”
Paulding and Bryant led the Tigers with 19 points. Bryant also had a game-high 12 rebounds.
The Tigers had little answer to the quickness of Brown in the first half. Brown, a sophomore who scored 21 in Illinois’ victory against the Tigers in last year, propelled the Illini to a 42-28 halftime lead thanks in large part to the fast break.
Because the Tigers shot 32 percent and had 11 turnovers, the Illini had plenty of opportunities to run.
“I think Illinois hurt us most in transition, and that was on the top of our list as far as the awareness we have to have,” MU coach Quin Snyder said. “We just didn’t do a good enough job of that in the first half. When they were forced to play against our half-court defense late, that got us back in the game.”
Illinois had a 12-2 advantage in fast break points.
The Illini opened the game on a 9-2 run with junior forward Roger Powell scoring six of Illinois’ points. Paulding halted the spurt with a floating jumper from the right baseline.
Moments after the hot start, the Illini went on a 16-2 run, which included 3-pointers from Brown and freshman Richard McBride. The run gave Illinois a 25-9 lead with 12:03 left. Brown added two easy layups in the stretch.
Brown finished the first half with 14 points and five assists. His second 3-pointer gave Illinois a 40-19 lead and brought the Illinois half of the crowd to its feet. The shot, which capped a 13-2 run, gave the Illini the biggest lead of the game.
“Our whole game plan was to get after them,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “Our defensive pressure was great early.”
Illinois made 47 percent of its shots and hit 5-of-8 3-pointers. The Tigers did not make one of their five attempts from 3-point range.
Brown lost his touch in the second half, which allowed the Tigers to begin to get back in the game. The Tigers held Brown to four points and without a field goal.
After a perfect shooting night against UNC-Greensboro on Sunday, Bryant struggled early, making 2-of-7 shots in the first half.
In the beginning of the second half, the Tigers chipped away at the Illini lead thanks in large part to Bryant, who shook off his shooting woes. He scored on short jumpers on the first two possessions of the second half. A Johnson basket with 17:42 left brought the Tigers within 42-34, but Illinois responded with a five-point burst after a timeout.
Three possessions later, Bryant hit a 3-pointer after executing a pick-and-roll with Paulding.
The Tigers could not get closer than eight points until 9:38 was left. Bryant scored on a feed from junior forward Jason Conley. Two possessions later, Jimmy McKinney hit a fade-away jumper to make it 57-52.
Illinois again responded and pushed the lead to nine when junior guard Luther Head knocked in a jumper, and Augustine’s two free throws made it 61-52.
The Tigers reduced the deficit to five after a Bryant 3-pointer and a free throw from Johnson, but a Smith jumper made it 63-56.
Paulding hit two free throws with 3:53 left to bring the Tigers within 64-60. Johnson reduced it to two with a short jumper on the Tigers’ next possession.