By Harrison Vapnek
COLUMBIA — With Braggin’ Rights on the line at home against No. 6 Illinois, the Tigers did not shy away from the opportunity to pull off one of the biggest upsets of the young college basketball season.
Missouri (5-0) took down Illinois (4-2), 81-78, led by Dru Smith and Xavier Pinson’s 17 points. The Tigers led by as much as 13 points in the second half, before Illinois came back and tied at game at 76 with 3:21 remaining.
“A great, great Saturday night game,” Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin said. “High level on both sides, physical game. Both teams played hard. Both teams defend.”
In a mostly back and forth first half, Missouri shot 54% from the field and hit 3 three-pointers to lead 49-41 at halftime. The key to the first half for the Tigers was their perfect, 16 of 16, from the free throw line.
“It wasn’t a pretty win I can tell you that,” Missouri guard Xavier Pinson said. “They came out and fought and made sure it wasn’t going to be easy. I’m ok with that win, that’s it.”
For Illinois, their star guard Ayo Dosunmu dropped a season high 36 points, including 21 in the second half to rally an Illinois comeback, along with five rebounds for the Fighting Illini.
In the game’s closing minutes, Xavier Pinson and Kofi Cockburn traded baskets to put Missouri’s lead at 2 points, but a flagrant foul against Cockburn on his layup gave the Tigers 2 free throws, in which Mark Smith split to put Mizzou up 3 points. With the clock winding down, Dosunmu missed a three-pointer from the wing and Kobe Brown pulled down the rebound, only to get fouled and miss both free throws. At the buzzer, Dosunmu got off a shot from half court that hit just the backboard, sealing a Tigers upset.
“We have had our share of differences and different types of losses in games and down the stretch losses in games, games that got away from us,” Martin said. “We have seen it all and it is a matter of finding ways to win games and keeping our composure and we certainly know games are 40 minutes and we have to play them until they’re over.”
Missouri will look to get to 6-0 next Friday night, as they host Prairie View at 7 p.m. and can be heard right here on KCOU 88.1.
Edited by Emma Moloney