Illini win eighth straight ‘Braggin’ Rights’ Game

By Jason Grodsky

St. Louis – In a game that saw eight lead changes in the last nine minutes, it was the last change that mattered most for Illinois.

In a classic match up of Big Ten power and toughness inside versus Big Twelve speed and stinginess outside, Illinois ability to score down low made the difference.

Illinois turned to its top two scorers, senior forward Shaun Pruitt and junior guard Trent Meacham for production in the 27th annual Busch Braggin’ Rights game against Missouri. Pruitt finished with a team high 14 points while Meacham added 13 in Illinois 59-58 win over the Tigers, extending the Illini’s winning streak in the Braggin’ Rights series to eight.

Trailing 58-57 with under 30 second left, senior forward Shaun Pruitt had three looks from less than two feet away to give Illinois the lead and finally on the third put back the ball fell through the hoop to give Illinois a 59-58 lead.

“It felt like a 30 seconds to minute play,” Pruitt said. “I knew if we could keep it alive we would get it to go in.”

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After Pruitt gave Illinois the lead junior guard Chester Frazier took the stage on defense, grabbing a rebound and then forcing two turnovers to seal the game.

“We did a great job defensively,” Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said. “Our kids did a good job of keeping their focus and they found a way and the will to win. All their efforts on the last three plays showed how much they wanted to win it.”

Illinois established its territory down low early and often, getting off to a 9-0 run and 11-2 run at the start of the first and second half.

Despite the early runs at the beginning of each half by Illinois, Missouri used its

“40 minutes of hell” defense to spark 14-2 and 14-3 runs to claw their way back into the game.

“They went on their runs and we stayed together and stayed positive,” Meacham said. “We made plays down the stretch that made the difference.”

For the second game in a row the Illini’s offense ran through Pruitt. The result was a 30-20 advantage in paint for the Illini.

With Pruitt’s force inside the Illini received good balance from Meacham outside.

Still playing on a sore ankle, Meacham was able to get loose in the first half and score 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting.

Missouri clamped down on the Champaign native in the second half, only allowing two free throws and forcing him to miss his only four shots in the second half.

Brian Randle also added 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the game, but was forced to sit and watch the final 10 minutes after fouling out. The senior forward was glad to see his teammates step up when it counted most and was the first to jump off the bench to celebrate with teammates.

“We wanted to leave a bench mark with this game,” Randle said. “More than being 5-0 in this game since I’ve been here it’s more about getting on a role and taking this into our next game. Now everyone can go home and relax without reflecting back on any negative aspects.”