Fighting Illini demolish Tigers in 'Braggin' Rights'

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Illinois posted the largest margin of victory in the neutral-court series to tune up for Redhawks.

ST. LOUIS -- In its first trip to town since last year's Final Four, Illinois got big games from its tournament holdovers.

Dee Brown had 17 points, seven assists and two steals and James Augustine added 12 points, eight rebounds and three steals in the sixth-ranked Illini's 82-50 rout of Missouri on Wednesday night.

Illinois (12-0) won by the most lopsided margin in the 25-year history of the neutral-court "Braggin' Rights" series.

"I thought we came out and set the tone with a great deal of energy," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "Dee and James played like seniors should."

The sold-out game was played in an arena across downtown from the domed stadium where the Illini lost to North Carolina in the 2005 national championship game.

The Fighting Illini's superior quickness had Missouri (4-4) on the run from the start, and the game was over by halftime when the lead was 18 points. It grew to as many as 34 near the end as Illinois won its sixth straight in the series and raised its overall record to 17-8. The previous highest winning margin was 22 points by Illinois in 1980.

"We had to jump on them the first 5 minutes, and that's what we did," Brown said.

There was no letup the rest of the way.

"Continue to put the foot down, don't hold back," Brown said. "If you do, that's how a team can come back. We just continued to go out there and push it down their throat."

Illinois, which replaced three starters from its NCAA runner-up team, hopes to end December unbeaten with Southeast Missouri State (Dec. 28) and Tennessee-Martin (Dec. 30) remaining before the Big Ten schedule. Illinois has dominated its last three opponents, previously beating Coppin State by 19 points and Oregon by 30.

Jimmy McKinney had 11 points for Missouri, which got an off-night from Thomas Gardner. Gardner, who leads the Big 12 with a 22-point average, was held to a season-worst six points on 2-for-12 shooting.

"Thomas was going to have a game like this," Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. "People are going to key on him. Our other guys are just going to have to develop; they'll have to give him some help."

Gardner wasn't the only one struggling: Missouri shot 35 percent and committed a season-worst 21 turnovers.

"Obviously, we had a very small margin for error against a team of Illinois' caliber," Snyder said. "They showed us how good they are."

Brian Randle returned to the Illinois lineup after missing a game with a sprained right ankle and added 13 points and six rebounds, while Marcus Arnold had 13 points. Randle also led the defensive effort against Gardner.

"It was one of the best defenses that I've faced all year," Gardner said. "They made it tough for me to get open. I turned it over three or four times, I've got to get better."

Brown helped Illinois take control early, hitting two 3-pointers in a 10-0 run for a 16-5 lead. Another 3 by Brown gave Illinois a 28-12 lead. Then he capitalized after getting fouled beyond the 3-point line with 3 seconds left, hitting two free throws for a 39-21 lead and reaching his season average of 14 points.

"He'll make you pay," Snyder said. "When there was a long offensive rebound he stuck a 3. He did it several times. Those baskets had the effect of splintering us a little bit."

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