Tigers lose to Illini in fantastic finish

men bball 2

By Ben Burke, 23 Sports

Saturday, Dec. 20-

The 34th annual Braggin’ Rights game did not disappoint, as the Missouri men’s basketball team fell short to Illinois, 62-59 Saturday afternoon.

The matchup, the 45th all time between these two schools, was decided on a buzzer-beating three point shot by Illini star guard Rayvonte Rice.

Rice, a fifth-year senior, came into the game sixth in the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 17.2 points per game. He followed up his 29-point performance against Oregon with a game-high 19 in this contest.

For the Tigers, Johnathan Williams III had a big day. For the fifth consecutive game, he led Missouri in both scoring and rebounding, with 15 and eight respectively.

Both squads struggled offensively for the first quarter of the game. Until Tiger Freshman Jakeenan Gant’s layup with 10:01 to go in the half, the two teams had combined for 21 points.

For Illinois, the issue was getting the ball in the basket, as two separate three-minute-long dry spells from the field in the first 10 1/2 minutes led to 31 percent shooting.

On the other side, Missouri had problems turning the ball over once again, as they had seven giveaways in the first 11 minutes of the game.

Even with their poor shooting, the Illini held a lead for most of the half. It took an 8-2 Tiger run to give Missouri its first lead of the game with five minutes to go.

Gant gave life to the Tigers, helping Missouri take the lead with three points and two offensive rebounds over the latter half of the run. He followed up his 13-point career debut against Xavier with seven points in this game.

The rest of the first half was neck and neck, as after two ties and four lead changes in the last six minutes; Illinois held a 32-30 lead heading to the break.

After another slow start that saw both teams combine for just four points in the first four and a half minutes, the second half became a battle of runs.

The Illini went on a 6-0 run to break a 36-36 tie and extend their lead to what would be their largest of the game with just under 13 minutes to go.

Missouri followed that run up with a 7-2 run of its own a few minutes later to take a 50-47 lead.

As the rivalry was heating up, so was the play of both Williams III and Rice, as the two duked it out to give their respective squads momentum.

After a layup by Williams III extended the Tiger lead to three, Rice erased it with a contested three pointer to tie it up. Williams III followed that up with huge three-point play to put Missouri back up by three with six minutes to go.

Down 59-57 late in the game, the Tiger defense had to stand tough through two Illini possessions in the last minute and a half to give Missouri a chance to tie.

Sophomore Wes Clark came up clutch for the Tigers, hitting the mid-range jumper with only 22 seconds left to even things up at 59. Clark had 11 points, joining Williams III as the only two Tigers in double figures for points on the game.

In the end, however, Missouri could not keep a lid on Rice, as his pull-up three pointer over the outstretched arms of Williams III and senior Keith Shamburger as time expired gave the Illini Braggin’ Rights.

The loss was the Tigers’ second straight in this rivalry, after they won four straight from 2009-2012. Illinois now holds a 29-16 lead in the all-time series. Missouri (5-6) heads from St. Louis to Kansas City for their next game, where they will take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys Tuesday, Dec. 30 at the Sprint Center.