Missouri sophomore forward Johnathan Williams III pulled his jersey up over his face as Illinois’ players flooded from the bench to mob senior Rayvonte Rice.
Williams couldn’t watch.
Meanwhile, players at the Tigers’ bench stood quietly, stunned after Rice threw in a 24-foot dagger at the buzzer for a 62-59 win Saturday in another classic chapter of the annual Braggin’ Rights game at the Scottrade Center.
“Ray, obviously in the second half, was an absolute monster on both ends of the court,” Fighting Illini coach John Groce said. “I felt like he had that look in his eyes. We drew up a lot of things for him.”
Missouri tied the game at 59-59 on a pull-up jumper in the paint by sophomore Wes Clark off a screen-and-roll with 17.8 seconds remaining.
Coming out of a timeout, Illinois put the ball in the hands of Rice, who finished with a game-high 19 points to go with seven rebounds and three assists, to break the game’s 10th and final tie.
“The plan was to get the switch (off a ball screen), and we got that, then just attack,” Rice said. “They gave me too much space and I just pulled up. It was a great game.”
Williams, who led Missouri with 15 points and eight rebounds, contested Rice’s game-winner, the second long three-pointer he hit in the second half, but that was little consolation as Williams slowly walked off the floor with his Tigers teammates.
“I think we covered it, but (Rice) makes a great shot,” MU coach Kim Anderson said. “The only thing you wish you could do differently is maybe if (Williams) could get closer and he could have blocked it.”
Missouri, 5-6, never led by more than three points, and Illinois, 9-3, never led by more than six in a game that featured eight lead changes in front of an announced crowd of 20,079.
The Tigers trailed by two at halftime and tied the game at 36-36 early in the second half before a 6-0 run put the Illini back in control.
At times this season, even a small run like that would bury Missouri.
“In the past, it’s turned negative,” Anderson said. “… A little bit of a run and then we lose it, and all of the sudden we’re down 10 or we’re down 12. I thought we responded really well.”
Illinois’ lead never grew beyond 42-36, and Missouri stormed in front with 8:13 remaining on freshman D’Angelo Allen’s second three-pointer of the game.
Allen, who scored eight points with five rebounds, entered the game just one of four from long range this season.
Allen added an assist on a layup by Williams one possession later as Anderson’s squad stepped out to its largest lead of the game at 50-47.
Rice hit a deep three as the shot clock expired on one possession, but Clark, who finished with 11 points, answered with a game-tying pull-up at the other end.
“I was really proud of the effort,” Anderson said. “I was proud of the young guys. I thought we hung in there and made plays when we needed to, but we just couldn’t get the stop at the end.”
Instead, the day belonged to Rice and Illinois, which improved to 22-12 in the history of the Braggin’ Rights series.
“You don’t want to lose, but I certainly was encouraged, and there’s some guys hurting, which is good,” Anderson said. “I’m not sure I’ve seen that feeling quite like this this year.”
He continued: “I learned something today about this group. I don’t want to be a program where we’re happy to lose. ‘Hey, we only lost by three.’ That’s not what this is, but I did watch some guys grow up and some guys show what they can do. … Now, we’ve got to do it on a regular basis.”
Illinois led 32-30 at halftime thanks to a three-pointer in the closing seconds before halftime by senior Ahmad Brooks, who finished with 13 points.