Illinois falls to Missouri in Braggin’ Rights game


Ethan Scholl

Illinois head coach Brad Underwood argues with the referee during Illinois’ game against Penn State on Feb. 11. The Illini lost 74-52.

By Tatiania Perry, Staff Writer

The moment Mark Smith committed to Missouri, many fans took to social media to talk about what it meant, most emphasizing the 2018 Braggin’ Rights game that took place Saturday.

Illinois had tucked five consecutive wins under its belt and was looking to secure a sixth, but after being outscored 40-28 in the second half, the Tigers defeated the Illini 79-63.

With Giorgi Bezhanishvili seeing few touches and Missouri’s Jordan Geist seeming to be a powerhouse, it was tough for the Illini to finish out the game.

It was the last seven minutes that really changed momentum in favor for the Tigers. Previously, Illinois and Missouri had matched turnovers, 18 and 19, respectively, and were essentially trading points. Neither team allowing a big run to the other.

But toward the end of the game, the small mistakes started to become more frequent, the missed free throws holding more weight.

“I could probably come up with 100 excuses, I wish I knew,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “We have to work on leadership, we have to work on the end of practice things. I wish I could pinpoint it ’cause it would sure as heck stop it.”

To start those final minutes, the Illini had just regained its lead 56-55 after sophomore guard Trent Frazier got two points on a fast break jump shot.

Frazier collected 28 points and was on fire for most of the night, but it was clear that counting on just him was beginning to be taxing.

“Obviously coach trusts me with the ball in my hands,” Frazier said. “He told me that he wanted me to bring the ball to the rim every time, but after the half, I had started to get a little fatigued.”

Missouri’s Jeremiah Tilmon was quick to respond with a layup and began to widen the gap from there. Freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu, who had been having an off night from the start, threw a sloppy pass that was stolen by Xavier Pinson. Mark Smith got ahold of the ball then saw a chance and attempted a two-point jumper for Missouri, but missed. To round out the former Illini hopefuls, Javon Pickett, who had played a quiet but effective role throughout the game, made the three.

The gap was growing.

The Tigers went on an eight-point run and with four minutes left in the game. Throughout the struggle, freshman guard Alan Griffin, though he had warmed up for both halves with the team, saw practically only a minute of Braggin’ Rights playing time.

“Alan is (a) guy I probably should have put in in the first half a little bit,” Underwood said. “We are going to need his offense and what he brings.”

With 16,397 fans in attendance, the Enterprise Center in St. Louis was loud.

The classic I-L-L call and I-N-I response rang in a different tone and Missouri fans called M-I-Z for a Z-O-U response that only got louder in the those faithful final few minutes.

Senior guard Aaron Jordan heaved up the Illini’s final shot attempt in the last 20 seconds, but the damage had been done and the team lost the trophy they’d hoisted over their heads for the last half-decade. 

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