Mizzou tops Illinois, earns 2019 Braggin’ Rights title

The+Illini+and+Mizzou+Tigers+warm+up+on+the+court+of+the+Enterprise+Center+in+St.+Louis+before+the+annual+Braggin+Rights+game+between+the+programs.+Photo+from+Illinois+Athletics.+

The Illini and Mizzou Tigers warm up on the court of the Enterprise Center in St. Louis before the annual Braggin’ Rights game between the programs. Photo from Illinois Athletics.

By Nathan DeHaan, On Air Editor for Sports

Braggin’ Rights was on Illinois men’s basketball’s wish list this holiday season, but Missouri had other plans on Saturday afternoon. In a game full of high tensions and intense physical play at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Missouri, Illinois fell short 56-63.

“(It was a) seven-point game, and it felt like a 25-point game. (I) give Mizzou a lot of credit,” said head coach Brad Underwood in his opening remarks in the press conference following Illinois’ loss.

In the first half, sophomore Ayo Dosunmu was all of Illinois’ offense. Dosunmu netted 11 points on 5-7 shooting ff the 23 points scored in the opening period. Fellow sophomore Giorgi Bezhanishvili and freshman Kofi Cockburn each had five points. The Illini went into halftime trailing 23-26, with the Tigers on a 13-4 run.

The second half mirrored the end of the first, as the Illini struggled to score and ended the half with only eight made shots from the field on 25 attempts. With Missouri getting into foul trouble early, a lot of Illinois’ looks came from the line, where the team shot 16-19.

Missouri took its biggest lead of the game on an emphatic Jeremiah Tilmon putback dunk to make the score 49-35 with 8:34 left in the contest. Illinois eventually crawled back to make it a five-point game with just under a minute to go after a Dosunmu jump shot, but the Illini were never able to get any closer.

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    “I thought we were better in practice; we weren’t great. Finals week at Illinois is a very challenging task,” Underwood said, “We didn’t have the right combative spirit that you need to have.”

    Dru Smith led Mizzou in scoring with 19 points, also adding five rebounds and four assists. Javon Pickett had another impressive Braggin’ Rights game with 17 points and six rebounds off of the bench.

    As they were last year, the familiar faces of Mark Smith and Tilmon were in Missouri’s starting line up, but they were rather ineffective. They combined for four points, six rebounds, and one assist. Tilmon de-committed from Illinois to join the Tigers before the 2017 season, while Mark Smith spent the 2017-18 season with the Illini and Underwood before transferring to Missouri.

    Overall, Dosunmu drove to the rim and played well in the loss, finishing as the game’s leading scorer with 21 points and five rebounds.

    “I just wanted to get to the rim,” Dosunmu said. “They were in the bonus early in the first and second half so I wanted to use my moves to get to the rim and get fouled, get points while the clock is stopped.”

    But Cockburn looked like a freshman for the first time all season, unable to take over the game from down low and finishing with 13 points, seven of which came at the free-throw line, and only two rebounds. But after the game, Underwood didn’t view Cockburn’s low rebound total as a negative.

    “When you have a unique piece in Kofi, he occupies people,” Underwood said. “It’s maybe not him getting the rebound, its the other guys that he creates the space for.”

    Sophomore Alan Griffin had eight points, six rebounds, and one steal in 18 minutes off of the bench for Illinois.

    Illinois’ next game will be at home against North Carolina A&T on Sunday.

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