Braggin’ Rights history: Illinois men’s basketball aims to snap three-game losing streak to Missouri


Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

The Illinois men’s basketball team holds the Braggin’ Rights trophy after beating Missouri on Dec. 23, 2017. The Illini are on a three-game losing streak in the series heading into Wednesday night’s matchup.

By Christian Jones, Staff Writer

Braggin’ Rights began as the “Show-Me Classic” in 1976. For four years Illinois and Missouri played an alternating home-and-home series that ended in 1979, with each school winning two games. In 1980 a neutral site was chosen, and Braggin’ Rights was born. Illinois got the first win.

When the Missouri Tigers beat Illinois, 81-78, last December, it marked the third-straight Braggin’ Rights win for the program. This year Missouri has a chance to secure a fourth-straight Braggin’ Rights victory for just the third time in the rivalry’s 42-year history.

Though the Illini are not currently ranked inside the top-25, a loss to Missouri would be considered an upset. The Illini have been ranked as high as 10th this season and are coming off a win in which they knocked down a school-record 18 3-pointers against St. Francis University (Pa.).

At 8-3 and with a close loss to No. 6 Arizona, the Illini look like a legit threat. Meanwhile Missouri looks like a team fighting for relevance and in danger of missing the NCAA tournament.

A blowout loss to No. 8 Kansas showed just how far Missouri is from the top, but the history of Braggin’ Rights is full of upsets. Including last year, there have been 13 occasions where the unranked or lower-ranked team won Braggin’ Rights, so anything can happen.

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Here’s some recent history of Braggin’ Rights.

2017: Illinois wins, 70-64

Illinois’ last Braggin Rights win came in head coach Brad Underwood’s first season with the team. and it was the fifth-straight rivalry win for the program. 

In 2017, then freshman Trent Frazier led the Illini to victory with 22 points off the bench. Frazier got to the Iine 11 times that day and sank 10 free throws. He also grabbed three steals. It was an accurate preview of what Fraizer would bring to Illinois basketball for the next five years.

Forward Leron Black was the only other Illinois player to record double-digit shot attempts that night. He added 20 points and seven rebounds in what would be his final Braggin’ Rights game. The soon-to-be Missouri transfer Mark Smith scored 11 points in the first of his four-straight Braggin’ Rights wins.

2018: Missouri wins, 79-63

In 2018 Frazier put up another outstanding performance in St. Louis, but he didn’t get much help and Missouri ran away with the lead. Frazier scored 28 points, and he shot six of 13 from three.

Then freshman Ayo Dosunmu struggled in his first Braggin’ Rights appearance, scoring just two points on five shot attempts. His minutes were limited after commiting a few early turnovers and finishing with four. Giorgi Bezhanishvili and Aaron Jordan added 10 points each, while Da’Monte Willaims didn’t score.

Missouri’s Jordan Geist scored 20 points and made four threes in 36 minutes. Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett both scored 16. Pickett was a freshman in 2018 and still plays for Missouri in 2021. Former Illini Mark Smith scored five points and grabbed six rebounds for the Tigers.

2019: Missouri wins, 63-56 

The 2019 game saw Ayo finally make his mark in Braggin’ Rights. Dosunmu scored 21 points with one block and a steal, but it wasn’t enough to get the win. Kofi Cockburn made his Braggin’ Rights debut, scoring 13 points and grabbing just three rebounds. Giorgi Bezhanishvili also had a weak night on the glass, grabbing just four rebounds.

Despite being the best rebounding team in the nation at the time, the Illini were outrebounded by Missouri. Javon Pickett put up another good performance in 2019, scoring 17 points to go along with six rebounds and a steal.

Guards Dru Smith and Xavier Pinson orchestrated the Missouri offense that day, notching 19 and 14 points, respectively. An 8-0 run in the second half by the Tigers, capped off with a huge tip-in by freshman Kobe Brown, gave the Tigers a 12-point lead, and it was all over.

2020: Missouri wins, 81-78

In the closest Braggin’ Rights game of Underwood’s tenure, Dosunmu showcased his fully developed bag of tricks. Though he still struggled with turnovers, recording six, he scored 36 points to go along with five rebounds. Sophomore Kofi Cockburn had a big night as well, scoring 19 points and grabbing six rebounds, and freshman Andre Curbelo scored 14 in his first Braggin’ Rights game.

It wasn’t enough to overcome the Tigers, who were again led by Smith, Brown and Pickett. They scored 18, 17 and 14 points, respectively. Missouri spread the scoring around more than the Illini, with nine Missouri players scoring compared to only six for the Illini. The Tigers outrebounded Illinois by an even larger margin in this matchup that sent Ayo Dosunmu off to the NBA without a Braggin’ Rights win.

This was a legit upset, as the Illini were the No. 6 ranked team in the nation at the time. The loss to unranked Missori would send them down seven spots to No. 13.

Prediction 2021: Illinois wins 85-80

This game could go either way. The Illini are the clear favorites coming in, but there is a history of upsets here, as both teams always play hard in this matchup. Cockburn is still the most dominant player in the country, and Missouri has struggled against size this season, so he should find success.

Javon Pickett and Kobe Brown are still with Missouri and both have given Illinois problems in past matchups. Brown led the Tigers in scoring with 15 a game. What Missouri lacks this year that they’ve had in the past is a quick guard who can also heat up from three. They have good shooters but not exceptional.

Fortunately for them, the Illini have struggled guarding the perimeter this year. The Illini will have to improve their defense to end this rivalry losing streak.



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