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December 21, 2013

Streaks stopped in St. Louis

Twenty years after the most famous missed free throws in the history of the Braggin' Rights series, Illinois finally got some redemption. Two free throws by Tracy Abrams with 4.6 seconds left gave the Illini a 65-64 win, breaking Mizzou's four-game winning streak in the series and handing the Tigers their first loss of the season.

"We had to make a play and get a stop at the end of the game," Missouri's Jordan Clarkson said. "We just didn't finish the game."

Missouri came awfully close. A three-pointer by Jabari Brown--just his third field goal in 11 attempts--had given the Tigers a 64-63 lead with 14 seconds to play. Rayvonte Rice lost control of the ball near the top of the key on Illinois' last possesion. But, as was a theme for the night, Rice chased down the loose ball before the Tigers could corral it.

"It was an extremely physical game, and I thought Illinois was more physical than us, particularly in the 2nd half with the loose balls and that was the difference in the game," head coach Frank Haith said. "There were a couple of loose balls and the guys are going to be sick when they see it."

After Rice chased the ball down, Abrams drove the right side of the lane and was fouled by Johnathan Williams III. On the 20-year anniversary of the 1993 triple-overtime game, which is remembered for multiple miracle comebacks by the Tigers and two missed free throws by Kiwane Garris, Abrams calmly sunk two with 4.6 seconds to play. The free throws gave Abrams 22 points and the Illini a one-point lead.

"(Abrams) was really good, made some big shots and big plays for them," Haith said. "He's a veteran and has been in this game."

Missouri still had a shot. The last play was set up for Clarkson, who led all players with 25 points and eight assists. Tony Criswell's inbounds pass bounced off Clarkson's chest. Criswell was able to grab the ball and dribble across midcourt, but his 35-footer at the buzzer came up well short.

"It was just a tough pass to catch. I was going full speed and it was a little bit behind me," Clarkson said. "But I thought Tony got a good shot, it was the best shot we could get."

It was not good enough. The loss dropped Missouri from the ranks of the unbeaten at 10-and-1. It was the first Braggin' Rights loss in three tries for Haith and Illinois' first victory in the series in five years.

"Really good ball game with two teams playing hard,
 Haith said. "Comes down to 2 free throws to lose the game. I like where our team is at."

"We have to have a short memory. We've got our first road game at NC State next week," Clarkson said. "We don't want to slip up two."

Missouri shot better than Illinois from the field, the free throw line and the three-point line. The Tigers had more second chance points, more points in the paint, more rebounds, more assists and more bench points. But in the only category that matters, Mizzou came up one point short.

Brad Sturdy of Rivals.com contributed to this report

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