Illinois just keeps on braggin'

Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Illinois' Shaun Pruitt slammed the ball in the first half Tuesday against Missouri in their annual Braggin' Rights game in St. Louis. The Illini won 73-70.
Tom Gannam
Associated Press

The Illini defeated Missouri for the seventh straight year.

ST. LOUIS -- Illinois handled Missouri's pressure just well enough to win its seventh straight "Braggin' Rights" game.

Shaun Pruitt had a career-high 19 points and nine rebounds as Illinois hung on for a 73-70 victory Tuesday night. The Illini overcame 42 percent shooting by committing only 14 turnovers, a season-low against Missouri's full-court pressing team.

"They came at us tough, but we were able to handle the pressure," senior guard Rich McBride said after completing a clean sweep over Missouri. "It feels good to go unbeaten against a program like that in big games like this."

Jamar Smith added 15 points and Brian Randle had 10 points and seven rebounds for Illinois (11-2), which won its seventh in a row in the annual Missouri-Illinois clash after a wild, error-filled finish. Weber is 100-18 in his fourth season at the school, and he loves the series.

"It's a high-octane game," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "It's a special game. I don't know of any other game like it in the country, to be honest."

Missouri's Mike Anderson became the first new coach to lose his initial game in the neutral site series, played before the usual sellout crowd. Still, the game was a lot more competitive than Illinois' 32-point blowout last year, the largest margin in a series that began in 1980.

"I thought it was a whale of a game, but the time ran out," Anderson said.

Stefhon Hannah scored a career-high 23 points for Missouri (9-2), which has lost its last two. But in the final two minutes he missed the front end of a bonus, got his shot blocked by Randle on a runner with a chance to cut the gap to one, and then lost control on the Tigers' final possession, coughing up the ball near the top of the key with 2 seconds to go and a chance to force overtime.

"I was looking for somebody to get open but I didn't see anybody, so I was going to take the shot," Hannah said. "But the ball slipped out of my hand."

Other errors by Missouri, which led by as many as six in the first half and was ahead 38-35 at the half, helped Illinois finish it off. Chester Frazier missed the front end of a bonus with 56 seconds left, but Leo Lyons was called for a lane violation and Frazier then hit a pair after the call for a 71-66 lead with 56 seconds to go.

Lyons, who made his first career start, missed a pair of free throws with 48 seconds to go for another lost opportunity.

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