The 12th-ranked Missouri Tigers earned the Braggin' Rights in their annual showdown with No. 10 Illinois, sinking the Fighting Illini 82-73 on Saturday.
It was a fiercely contested battle, with numerous scuffles sandwiched between fast-paced and physical action. The referees essentially swallowed their whistles, allowing the two bitter nonconference rivals to slug it out playground style.
Missouri eventually prevailed thanks to its massive 51-29 rebounding edge and the brilliant point guard play of Phil Pressey.
Five Tigers had at least six rebounds, including Pressey (seven) and big man Alex Oriakhi, who ripped down 14 boards (seven offensive). Oriakhi, who transferred to Missouri from UConn, added 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting.
Most of his buckets came off assists from Pressey, who dished out 11 dimes on the day. The speedy point guard sliced his way through the Illinois defense at will, and his exceptional vision led to many easy buckets.
Pressey struggled mightily from the field, hitting just three of his 19 shots. Luckily, the scoring slack was picked up by Laurence Bowers and Jabari Brown, who scored 23 and 18 points, respectively.
For Illinois, star shooting guard Brandon Paul led the way with 23 points. He shot just 5-of-18 from the field, but he relentlessly attacked the basket, earning 14 free-throw attempts.
Illinois also got strong offensive performances from Tyler Griffey (14 points), Joseph Bertrand (13 points) and Nnanna Egwu (12 points, nine rebounds). Unfortunately for the Big Ten powerhouse, their efforts weren't quite enough, and Mizzou escaped with its fourth consecutive win in the series.
With the victory, the Tigers improved to 10-1 this season, while Illinois suffered its first loss to drop to 12-1.
Brandon Paul struggled from the field, but he found plenty of other ways to impact the game. That's just one reason why Jay Williams believes he's a first-team All-American this year:
My 1st team All-American team as of right now: PG: Trey Burke SG: Brandon Paul SF: DeShaun Thomas PF: Doug McDermott C: Mason Plumlee— Jay Williams (@RealJayWilliams) December 22, 2012
This was a physical game from start to finish. As Gary Parrish of CBS Sports mentioned, a skirmish in the first half almost escalated to the point of last year's infamous Xavier-Cincinnati brawl:
We almost had our Cincinnati-Xavier moment here at Missouri-Illinois. No punches. But it looked like Sam McLaurin wanted to throw one.— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) December 22, 2012
Despite the early altercation, the refs didn't tighten up on the whistles, as Boston Celtics forward Jeff Green pointed out:
These refs are letting the kids play in this Missouri and Illinois game— Jeff Green (@unclejeffgreen) December 23, 2012
Senior Alex Oriakhi was a man among boys today. In fact, he was so good that he prompted TrueHoop contributor Fred Katz to wonder just how old he really is:
Oriakhi could easily secretly be 32 years old, right?— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) December 23, 2012
But the tweet of the night goes to Metro Sports anchor Mick Shaffer, who had a helpful hint for the poor-shooting Pressey:
Maybe if Phil Pressey thought of it as a "pass to the rim" he might make one of these shots.— Mick Shaffer (@mickshaffer) December 23, 2012
Pressey finally hit his first shot with just over four minutes to play, sinking a stop-and-pop floater after missing his first 15 shots of the day.