ST. LOUIS — Missouri’s search for a consistent point guard did not end Tuesday night.
The situation might have become murkier than it had been. Illinois’ Dee Brown overshowed the Tigers’ tandem of Jimmy McKinney and Randy Pulley in the first half, but McKinney improved his play in the second.
Missouri’s point guards contributed two assists and five turnovers in the first half, while Brown scored 14 points and five assists. Much of Brown’s scoring came in transition, for he was continually able to beat Missouri senior Rickey Paulding down the floor. Two first-half 3-pointers from Brown forced Missouri coach Quin Snyder to take timeouts.
In the second half, the tables were turned. The Tigers shut down Illinois’ transition game, and Brown was silenced. He was 0-of-7 from the field in the second half, including a potential fast-break layup that Paulding blocked from behind.
“I was so tired I was just trying to finish,” Brown said. “He made a terrific hustle play … maybe next year I can dunk that one.”
McKinney ran the point for most of the half, and his ability to drive to the basket put him on the foul line twice and created opportunities for his teammates. A McKinney jumper from the right side that fell through as the shot clock sounded with 7:52 left in the half cut the Illinois lead to 57-52. His final stats were not representative of his late play: He finished with eight points on 2-of-7 shooting and committed five turnovers to one assist.
Pulley played four minutes in the second half and did not have an impact in the Missouri comeback.
CONLEY SILENCED: Jason Conley, who made his Missouri debut against UNC-Greensboro on Sunday, was held in check, going scoreless with three rebounds and four assists.
Conley served as an emotional leader on defense during the second-half rally. He repeatedly slapped his hands on the floor, encouraging his teammates to make the stop.
“Some people don’t understand that small things like that can help you,” he said. “When you hit the floor, that’s kind of like convincing yourself you’re going to make a big defensive stop and that’s it.”
Conley has seen his team suffer many close losses from the bench, and he said that even making a run in the second half was an important accomplishment.
“Teams like this, the good teams, once they get a lead like that, they won’t give it up,” he said. “We were lucky enough to cut the lead down to one, but hopefully we’ll learn from our mistakes and go forward from here.”
DEFENSIVE CHANGE: After Illinois shot 47 percent in the first half, including 5-of-8 on 3-pointers, the Tigers switched to a 2-3 zone in the second half. The change worked, for Illinois was 8-of-26 from the field and 1-of-8 on 3-pointers in the final 20 minutes.
Missouri had not consistently played zone defense this season, remaining with a man-to-man that strong outside shooters often took advantage of.
Brown said the Illinois offense, which has struggled often this season, was unable to adjust to the zone quickly.
“When we execute, (our offense) is really hard to defend,” he said. “The point is, it’s when we run it.”
ST. LOUIS CONNECTIONS: The Missouri-Illinois rivalry is felt the most in St. Louis, making it the perfect site for the annual Braggin’ Rights contest. Tuesday’s game included one St. Louis native: McKinney, a Vashon High graduate.
McKinney has a solid understanding of the rivalry but viewed the outcome like he would any other loss, especially after the late comeback.
“It’s the same,” he said. “Losing any game is just hard. Just knowing we had it … it was hard.”
ANOTHER AJ RECORD: With his first rebound against Illinois, center Arthur Johnson became the fourth Missouri player to score 1,300 points and grab 900 rebounds. Steve Stipanovich, Doug Smith and Derrick Chievous are the other players.
Johnson finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds. He fouled out with 19.7 seconds left.
BEGINNER’S LUCK?: A first-year coach has won his first Braggin’ Rights game every year in the rivalry. Illinois coach Bruce Weber, who replaced Bill Self after he took control at Kansas, continued that trend.
It was a victory his players strove to attain, hoping to reduce the scrutiny that has developed after the team’s two early losses. Once the Tigers began to chip away at the Illinois lead, forward James Augustine said he would not let Weber lose in his first experience at the annual matchup.
“I was thinking about it as Coach Weber’s game,” he said. “We couldn’t let that happen to him.”