ST. LOUIS -- Not much bragging for Missouri after this one.
Phil Pressey had 18 points, five assists and two steals, and the Tigers (No. 8 ESPN/USA Today, No. 9 AP) held off a second-half charge by Illinois (No. 24 ESPN/USA Today, No. 25 AP) for a 78-74 victory in the annual Braggin' Rights game on Thursday night."There's a fine line when you have an athletic team that is good in transition," coach Frank Haith said. "We don't want to play at warp speed all the time. That allowed Illinois to get back into the game."Reserve Michael Dixon added 18 points and Ricardo Ratliffe had 14 in 19 minutes for Missouri (12-0), which squandered a 13-point cushion with 13 minutes left before recovering late. The Tigers have won three straight in the series and they're 12-0 for the first time since opening the 1981-82 season 19-0."We just had to dig it out," guard Kim English said. "An ugly win is better than a pretty loss any day."Reserve Joseph Bertrand had a career-high 19 points on 9-for-9 shooting, and Meyers Leonard had 14 points and 13 rebounds for Illinois (11-2) in its second loss in three games."Coach was just telling us to be aggressive," Bertrand said. "It was a big game for everybody and he wanted us to be aggressive and leave everything on the court. I kind of took that and ran with it."Brandon Paul added 19 points and nine rebounds for Illinois."They'll be one of the best teams we'll play all year" coach Bruce Weber said. "We had to play small ball. Bertrand hadn't made a bucket in weeks, even in practice."Illinois led 70-68 after three free throws by D.J. Richardson with 2:01 to go, but Missouri answered with seven straight points. Ratliffe scored twice inside, recovering an errant pass on one and putting back his own miss, and also forced a turnover. Illinois got no closer than three points the rest of the way, with Paul committing two turnovers.Pressey's layup was the clincher with 12 seconds to go for a five-point lead after Missouri worked the clock."When they're kicking our butt, you're hoping to survive and stay in it," Weber said. "We had a chance to win it and now it hurts."Bertrand, a sophomore, totaled two points in the previous six games and came in averaging 3.2 per game. He scored nine points in a 17-3 surge for a 62-61 lead with 7:01 to go. The Fighting Illini were 14 for 23 to start the second half.Missouri helped with undisciplined play, throwing up several ill-advised 3-point attempts, but regained the lead on a driving shot by Pressey with 6:45 to go.The Tigers made their first 14 free throws, eight of them by Dixon in the first half, and finished 19 for 23, while Illinois was 8 for 10. Dixon, one of the nation's best from the line at 95 percent entering the game, had the first miss early in the second half and was 10 for 12 at the line.Both schools were ranked for the second straight year and eighth time in 31 all-time meetings. Illinois leads the series 20-11.Missouri seized control with a 17-2 run for a 19-9 lead with just over 13 minutes left in the half, then closed it out with six straight points capped by Matt Pressey's follow dunk on younger brother Phil's missed layup with 2.5 seconds to go.Richardson had 10 of his 13 points at the half for Illinois, missed on the bonus with 29.2 seconds left and fouled Dixon on a drive with 1:24 to go.Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon were among a sellout crowd of 22,087. Missouri's first-year coach was impressed."I can't imagine there being anything else like this, the energy in the building," Haith said. "There was cheering on every basket. It has to be one of the great basketball events in the country."