• Key play: After a bit of scrum – which resulted in technical fouls being issues to MU’s Laurence Bowers and UI’s Sam McLaurin – Jabari Brown hit a three to give Missouri a 32-31 lead. The Tigers closed the half with a 12-4 run.
Key stat: Illinois, a team that entered the game making an average of 10 three-pointers per game, only went 4-for-17 from downtown in the half.
Key play: With Missouri leading 73-70 late in the second half, junior point guard Phil Pressey found Bowers wide open for a dunk that gave Missouri plenty of momentum and some much-needed cushion.
Key stat: Missouri outrebounded Illinois 58-35, which led to a 44-24 advantage on points in the paint.
Oh yeah, the hardware
In a funny twist, Missouri almost missed out on one of the best parts of a winning a rivalry game like this; the trophy presentation. Of MU’s players, only Bowers initially hung out on the court long enough to receive the trophy.
“I was so shocked,” Bowers said. “I turned around, I was looking trying to find everybody and everybody was running toward the locker room, so I don’t know what happened.”
There’s a reason for this, of course. Along with junior point guard Phil Pressey, Bowers is one of only two scholarship players on the roster who had ever played in the Braggin’ Rights Game prior to Saturday.
Of course, Pressey forgot about the trophy, presentation, too.
“One guy let me down, which was Phil,” Bowers joked.
Sophomore forward Jabari Brown, a transfer from Oregon who made his MU debut on Monday, earned his first career start on Saturday and finished with 18 points and seven rebounds.
“The decision we made to start Jabari was based not just on him being in the starting lineup, but our rotations,” said coach Frank Haith. “We wanted Keion starting on (Illini guard Brandon) Paul and we wanted an offensive guy out there with him.”
Things got a little chippy in the first half when Bowers and Illinois’ Sam McLaurin engaged in a brief, non-violent scrum that featured some yelling and posturing. Both were assessed technicals.
“It was kind of in the heat of the moment,” Bowers said. “One of the guys fell on me, I feel like I got kicked in the face or something, I don’t know what happened so I got kind of chippy, tried to get back at them. It was just part of the game.”
Missouri promptly went on a 12-4 run to close the half, giving the Tigers a 41-35 halftime lead.
“I thought we showed maturity coming together after that,” Bowers said. “It just got us fired up.”
Saturday’s game was physical, but Missouri’s players enjoyed the way the game was called.
“I always feel like if you’re going to let us play, be consistent the whole game, and I feel like they were,” Bowers said. “Don’t call fouls on one team and not on the other team. I thought the referees were great today as far as letting us play physical.”
Pressey echoed the same sentiments.
“I’m glad the referees let us play, those are the games you want,” Pressey said. “You don’t want the referees calling every little foul, then you’ll start crying to the refs. You’ve just got to man up and play through it.”
| Terez A. Paylor, firstname.lastname@example.org