In arguably their biggest game so far this season, the Illinois Fighting Illini were able to claim their “Braggin’ Rights” over the #23 Missouri Tigers with a 65-64 victory in St. Louis.
The Illini started the game out slow with three turnovers on their first three possessions of the game. Mizzou was able to jump out to an 8-0 lead to start before Coach Groce called a timeout to calm his guys down. Illinois was able to right the ship and hang with the Tigers before taking a 31-27 lead into halftime.
The entire second half was as tight as a basketball game could be. With just under two minutes in the game, Missouri’s Earnest Ross hit a huge 3-pointer that pulled Mizzou up 61-59. Tracy Abrams then missed a three of his own, but Illinois was bailed out by a rare turnover by Missouri junior Jordan Clarkson.
Following that turnover, Illinois would come out of a timeout and hit a three of their own by ISU transfer Jon Ekey to put the Illini back up by one. Ray Rice would then get a chance to increase the lead from the foul line following yet another Clarkson turnover, but only made one of two from the stripe.
Missouri called a timeout with 19 seconds left to set up their play trailing Illinois by a score of 63-61. Illinois would make the mistake of leaving Missouri’s Jabari Borwn open for a big three pointer which gave the Tigers a one point lead with 16 seconds left. Missouri would then use their final timeout of the ballgame following the Brown three.
It was in that moment when Tracy Abrams put the team on his back. On a drive to the basket, the junior guard drew a major foul and was able make two free throws to put Illinois up 65-64 with five seconds left in the game. Sloppy handling by the Tigers on the inbounds pass would seal the victory for the Illini.
As Coach Groce stated in his press conference on Thursday, Missouri got most of their offense from Clarkson, Brown, and Ross on Saturday. The three guards amassed 48 points (73.85 of Mizzou’s points) in the contest.
Jordan Clarkson finished the game with 25 points, six rebounds, eight assists, and three turnovers.
The Illini were led offensively by both Tracy Abrams and Rayvonte Rice. Abrams led the team in scoring with 22 points and was able to haul in six rebounds. Rice finished with 14 points, and only hit one of six three pointers in the game.
Senior guard Joseph Bertrand had an off night against Missouri. He was able to rack up six rebounds, but only scored nine points and turned the ball over five times which was a team-high.
Illinois will now have the next six days off before playing UIC on December 28th at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. However, with a win like this, the Illini players and fans should enjoy their holiday festivities this upcoming week.
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