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Thursday, Dec. 23

Illinois survives Mizzou scare     Send a link to a friend

By Greg Taylor

[DEC. 23, 2004]  Heading into the annual Braggin' Rights battle against Missouri, No. 1 Illinois was a heavy favorite. Many in Illini Nation spoke of a potential 30-point blowout. However, Illinois coach Bruce Weber warned all week of the craziness associated with such "rivalry" games. And he proved to be correct, as Illinois held off a late Missouri rally for a 70-64 victory. The game marked the fifth straight border war victory for the Illini and also provided the nation's best team its closest margin of victory on the young season.

The game began with cold shooting by both teams, but Dee Brown was able to get to the basket for three layups, propelling Illinois to an early 11-8 lead. Illinois took several long-range shots early, but without success, as the Illini's first 3-pointer didn't fall until the eight-minute mark of the first half. Illinois was able to make some baskets to extend the lead to double digits midway through the first half, but the story of the half was the intense Illinois defense. Missouri would shoot just 33 percent in the first half and the Men in Orange would find themselves with a 15-point bulge at the break, 38-23. Senior Luther Head led the way in the first half with 12 points, while Roger Powell and Brown both chipped in eight points.

Luther Head leads the way for Illinois with another 20-point performance.

The second half was very reminiscent of last year's game, when a 14-point Illini bulge was turned into just a one-point victory. Missouri was on the prowl again, as a seemingly safe 15-point lead was slowly cut down by the Tigers, who at one point found themselves down by just four points. The Missouri game plan seemed to be simple -- get the Illinois big men in foul trouble, and both Powell and James Augustine found themselves on the bench for major stretches of the second half. While Head and Brown carried Illinois in the first half, the final 20 minutes was all Deron Williams. The preseason conference player of the year came up big during crunch time, making seven of eight free throws in the final three minutes along with a nice fadeaway jump shot to seal the victory.

Head finished with 20 points, while Williams added 19 and Powell threw in 14. Missouri was led by sophomore forward Linas Kleiza, the game's high scorer with 25.

For No. 1 Illinois, the night provided a much-needed game where they were forced to play strong down the stretch. While 30-point blowouts are awesome, they are few and far between down the stretch and in the postseason. While many in attendance were disappointed with the close game, Weber seemed positive afterward and looking forward to the Christmas break.

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Dee Brown sizes up the competition in Illinois' 70-64 win over Missouri to claim Braggin' Rights for yet another year.

Illinois will return to action Monday night at the Assembly Hall for the second game of the Las Vegas tournament. The time is 7 p.m. and there is no TV for the game. Illinois will then play games in Vegas on the Dec. 30 and 31 against Northwestern State (6 p.m.) and Cincinnati (7 p.m.). The two Vegas games can be seen on Fox Sports Chicago.

Conference play will begin in just two weeks with a Jan. 5 home game against the much-improved Ohio State Buckeyes, led by new coach and central Illinois native Thad Matta.

Illini news and notes:

  • Illinois was held to just six fast-break points.
  • Missouri outrebounded the Illini 38-35 for the game and had nine more rebounds than Illinois in the second half.
  • Illinois was held to 42 percent shooting and was just 5-of-19 from long distance for the game.
  • Illinois was excellent from the foul line, making 21 of 27 free throws.
  • Illinois had four players in double figures but received only four bench points.
  • Illinois has won five straight in the series and is now 16-8 all-time in the Braggin' Rights series in St. Louis.

[Greg Taylor, photos by Ryan Seggelke]

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