Missouri runs away from Illinois, snaps five-year Braggin’ Rights losing streak

Missouri runs away from Illinois, snaps five-year Braggin’ Rights losing streak
Missouri guard Mark Smith yells in celebration after being taken off the court late in Missouri's 79-63 win over Illinois on Saturday, Dec. 22 2018 at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Mo. Smith, who began his college career at Illinois, transferred to Missouri this summer.

ST. LOUIS - Jeremiah Tilmon, Mark Smith and Javon Pickett were given a loud and unwarm welcome back to their hometown on Saturday night. Their exit was much louder.

Forty minutes after stepping on the court at Enterprise Center to a gallery of jeers, the trio jumped at midcourt, screaming in celebration. The three Saint Louis natives envisioned victory in their hometown as Illinois signees three years ago, but they stood together with the Braggin’ Rights trophy this season donning Missouri’s black and gold.

Smith, Tilmon and Pickett scored 14 of Missouri’s final 22 points and led the Tigers to a 79-63 victory that was Missouri’s (8-3) first win over Illinois (4-8) since 2012.

They also led a 17-2 run that broke the game open, scoring 12 points and turning a 56-55 deficit into a 72-58 lead.

Tilmon started the run with 7:21 to go, catching an entry pass and finishing a layup plus the foul, staring down Illini forward Kipper Nichols before walking back to the Missouri bench for a media timeout.

Tilmon, who suffered flu-like symptoms and missed practice leading up to the game, started the game with Missouri’s first two buckets while he was caught in the game’s adrenaline.

“The first half of the game I started screaming for like no reason," Tilmon said. "I just started screaming."

The 6-foot-10 center adjusted and led the Tigers with 16 points and 12 rebounds for his fourth double-double in his last six games.

Two possessions after Tilmon’s 3-point play, Pickett caught a swing pass and drained a 3 from the left wing before pumping his fist in celebration as he moved the Missouri lead to 7.

The freshman couldn’t contain his excitement and swung an arm, screaming in celebration as he too was caught up in the heat of the game.

“You’re trying not to scream," Pickett said, "but at that point, all you can do is scream, jump up and down."

Pickett and Smith, who scored 11 points for Illinois in the Illini’s win last year, each hit jumpers to give Missouri a 14-point lead with 3:36 left that it wouldn’t relinquish.

Pickett and Tilmon agreed the boos were the loudest for the former Illinois guard who finished with 5 points and six rebounds, grabbing contested boards and overcoming a cold shooting night to hold Illinois’ second-leading scorer this year, Ayo Dosunmu, to 2 points.

Guard Trent Frazier would take control in the middle of the first half for the Illini and kept them in the game with 17 first-half points before finishing with a game-high 28.

Smith hit a three near the left wing to stop a 12-2 run from Frazier and the Illini with 15:47 left in the first half. Like his two other current teammates, Smith screamed and raised his arms in celebration as he ran down the court. He also let his former teammates on the Illinois bench know of his recent triple.

Smith also opened up the offense off of the ball as a shooting threat. Coach Cuonzo Martin said Smith was used as a decoy who spaced the floor due to his shooting ability.

“Even though his numbers don’t say it a lot of stuff happened because of his ability to shoot the ball,” Martin said.

With Smith contained, point guard Jordan Geist took control from the outside with a 57-second flurry of three-straight 3s that gave Missouri a 21-17 lead midway through the first half. Geist finished with a team-high 20 points and seven assists while overcoming leg cramps in the second half.

After more 3s from Frazier, who was 4-for-5 from behind the arc in the first half, Missouri ended the half up 39-35 after a 12-3 run with 5 points from Pickett, who went to high school on just the other side of the Mississippi River at Belleville East High School.

Pickett even added some hustle plays for the Tigers, as he ran down a missed free throw to give Missouri an extra possession that turned into a Kevin Puryear layup late in the first half.

“He’s (Pickett) really active,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “He’s a junkyard dog. He does just about everything you need.”

Pickett combined a consistent shooting night with those hustle plays, shooting 7-for-8 from the field and 2-for-2 from behind the arc.

Tilmon came back in to start the second half with a dunk on the first possession and a layup on the next.

The center from East Saint Louis picked up his third foul minutes later with 15:02 left on the clock, but he continued to play aggressive defense, taking a charge on the next possession and risking a fourth foul that would have strapped him to the bench late in doing so.

Tilmon would register a block and play the majority of the second half as a presence inside while Missouri ran away with its fifth-straight win.

Next, Missouri goes back to Columbia and plays Morehead State on Dec. 29 at 1 p.m. at Mizzou Arena.

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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