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Tigers can't escape Illini D

Tigers can't escape Illini D

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ST. LOUIS - There is rarely an empty seat at a Braggin' Rights Game until the final horn.

By halftime Wednesday night, many Missouri fans had seen enough and headed home. The 25th anniversary of this border showdown with the University of Illinois was over.

Actually, it might have been decided much earlier.

The sixth-ranked Illini went on a 10-0 run in a 1:38 span to grab a 16-5 lead. Missouri never got within seven again as Illinois' suffocating defense set the tone in a surprisingly easy 82-50 victory before a Savvis Center crowd of 22,153.

"I can't say enough about the preparation we came into the game with," said Illini senior guard Dee Brown. "I'm going to miss this game. It's a big deal."

The Illini improved to 12-0 with their sixth straight victory over Missouri to tie for the fifth best start in school history. Illinois has two home games next week against Southeast Missouri State on Wednesday and Tennessee-Martin on Dec. 30 before the Big Ten Conference opener against Michigan State on Jan. 5 at the Assembly Hall.

This was the most lopsided game since the series moved to St. Louis in 1980 and became one of the most heated nonconference rivalries in the country. Illinois won that first game 84-62 for the biggest previous margin.

Usually, the game is tight all the way and often decided on the last possession with the fans on the edge of their seats.

Not this time.

Illinois held Missouri (4-4) to 35 percent field goal shooting (21 of 60), the fourth straight Illini opponent to shoot less than 38 percent. Missouri committed 21 turnovers, with all but one coming in the first 30 minutes.

Missouri junior swingman Thomas Gardner, who came into the game averaging 22.3 points, was held to a season-low six points mainly because of Brian Randle's sticky defense.

No one - least of all Missouri - would have blamed the Illini for braggin' just a little bit afterwards. But the Illini were humble.

"I'm happy with the way it turned out. I've had close games all three years I've been here," said Illini senior forward James Augustine. "It was good for a change."

Illinois' seniors lead the charge. Brown played a near flawless game, scoring a game-high 17 points (4 of 7 from 3-point range) to go with seven assists and no turnovers. Augustine finished with 12 points and a team-high eight rebounds.

Randle, who missed the last game with a sprained ankle, bounced back in a big way. The sophomore forward added 13 points to go along with his defensive gem against Gardner, who shot 2 of 12 from the field. Illinois junior forward Marcus Arnold chipped in 13 points and five rebounds to spark the bench to 30 points and nine rebounds.

"Dee and James got us going offensively. Dee is really settled in to becoming a solid point guard for us," said Illinois coach Bruce Weber. "He's not forcing things like he maybe did early (in the season) in figuring out who to trust with the ball and who not to.

"Defense has been our constant. Once we took them out of their plays, it seemed like they were going to put their head down and go towards the basket. We gave great help, they didn't make the next pass and turned it over a couple times."

Brown sank a pair of 3-pointers in the Illini's early 10-0 run, while Augustine's drive along the baseline for a layup put Illinois ahead 16-5 with 13:14 left. Augustine also had two steals in that stretch as Missouri suffered turnovers on four straight possessions.

From there, Illinois kept extending the lead. Brown's long 3-pointer put the Illini ahead 28-12. They ended the half on a 9-2 run, as Missouri made only one of its final nine shots, for a 39-21 halftime advantage.

Brown's message at halftime to his teammates was simple.

"Continue to put the foot down," he said. "Don't hold nothing back or say we're going to stop playing and pick up bad habits."

Missouri scored the first four points of the second half. That was the extent of the Tigers' comeback. Illinois buried them with a 23-9 run, busting the margin to 66-34 with 7:23 left.

Weber brought up history at halftime, too. The Illini had a 21-point first-half lead two years ago against Missouri before squeaking out a 71-70 victory. Last year, Illinois led by 15 points at halftime before hanging on for a 70-64 win.

"We did a better job defensively as the half progressed and kind of broke their spirit," said Weber.

Randle seemed to break Gardner's spirit when he stole the ball at midcourt and went in for a slam dunk to give Illinois a 46-25 lead. Gardner didn't chase Randle and was pulled for a couple minutes by Missouri coach Quin Snyder.

"My teammates got me into it. In a big game like this pain just fades away in warumps," said Randle. "I tried to go hard in warmups and it felt good. I had a job to do tonight, to defend Gardner and play my butt off.

"Coach Weber and I talked. Whether you're sick, hurt or have family problems, when you step on the court it's between you and the other team."

The other team didn't make any excuses.

"We knew we had a very small margin of error against a team of Illinois' caliber," said Snyder, who is 1-6 against the Illini. "They showed tonight who they are and how good they are. They're probably the best defensive team we've faced all year and we weren't able to execute offensively as well as we've been."


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