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Mizzou's Greatest, #13: Braggin' Rights 1993

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Melvin Booker scored 21 points with 13 assists in 52 minutes at the Checkerdome.
Melvin Booker scored 21 points with 13 assists in 52 minutes at the Checkerdome.
Bill Carter

Games take on significance in different ways.

Maybe it's a huge game in the present tense, i.e. a game that could decide a conference title, or a game deep in the NCAA Tournament, or simply a game one or both teams absolutely needs to have to reach a given goal. (Examples: 2007 Mizzou-Kansas football, 2013 SEC Championship, any Sweet 16 or Elite Eight game.)

Maybe it's just a great, memorable, nip-and-tuck game with great players playing great ball. (Examples: 2001 Missouri-Iowa State basketball, 1969 Missouri-Kansas State football.)

Maybe it's serves as a past-tense catalyst, a game that either turns everything around for better or worse. You might not realize the full effects in this regard until later. (Examples: 2007 Mizzou-Illinois football, 2009 Mizzou-Oklahoma State basketball, 2004 Mizzou-Kansas basketball, 2004 Mizzou-Troy football.)

The December 1993 Braggin' Rights battle between Missouri and Illinois checks all of the above boxes.

You want a huge game in the present tense? Mizzou was 5-1 and had yet to look even remotely impressive -- the Tigers had beaten Central Missouri, Jackson State, Coppin State, and SMU by a combined 13 points and lost to Arkansas by 52. They desperately needed a win. Illinois, meanwhile, was 6-1 and 19th in the country, a young team with grand ambition in a super-tough league.

You want an incredible game? Try three overtimes, multiple comebacks, insane late drama, unlikely heroes, and two fate-changing missed free throws.

You want implications? Illinois went 11-9 the rest of the way, barely made the NCAA Tournament, and lost in the first round. Mizzou, meanwhile, won 18 of its next 19 games, went undefeated in Big 8 play, and reached the Elite Eight.

In one of my favorite things we've ever done here, we held a 1993 Braggin' Rights Watch Party in December 2012 to celebrate the Mizzou Network posting the full game. (We should really do that again sometime.) I encourage you to scroll through the comments. And I encourage you to read this passage from Michael Atchison's great True Sons:

It didn't shape up as much of a contest, the struggling Tigers against the nationally ranked Illini in the final Braggin' Rights meeting at the old St. Louis Arena. But midway through the second half, the Tigers held a 61-48 edge. Then things got interesting. An Illinois rally keyed by guards Richard Keene and Kiwane Garris nearly finished off the Tigers as Jevon Crudup fouled out. With less than a minute to play, the Illini led 75-68. Then came the first in a series of miracles. Mark Atkins and Melvin Booker each hit shots to narrow the gap, and Lamont Frazier sank a three-pointer with four seconds left to tie the score at 79-79. Frazier later called the shot "an out-of-body experience."

In overtime, Atkins and Marlo Finner joined Crudup on the bench with five fouls apiece, and with forty-three seconds to play, the Tigers trailed by five. But late baskets by Kelly Thames helped forge an 88-88 tie and force a second overtime, where the game became the stuff of legend.

The Tigers didn't need another miraculous comeback, but they did need another miracle. With the score tied at 97-97 and the clock ticking down, Kiwane Garris drove to the basket. As time expired, the officials called a foul on Mizzou's Julian Winfield, his fifth. With no time left, Garris went to the line to shoot two, needing only one to give Illinois the win. "The only guy who didn't think the game was over was Coach Stewart," Lamont Frazier later said of the man who stood at midcourt berating the refs as Garris took the ball.

Garris, a freshman, had been sensational -- he scored thirty-one points in the game -- but he had never been in such a spot. He stepped to the line, the lane vacant, the other players reduced to spectators. Garris entered the game shooting 94 percent from the line, but as he stood there, nerves shot and legs spent, the basket might as well have been fifty feet away. He focused on the hoop. He breathed in and out. He put up his first shot. It hit the rim and bounced away. There were shrieks, moans, cheers. And then all of the air was sucked out of the building as Garris prepared to shoot again, feeling pressure like never before. He squared up and released. But after so much fight, the radar was gone. The ball bounced away harmlessly. On to a third overtime.

With four Tigers already fouled out, Missouri turned to Jason Sutherland and Derek Grimm, freshmen who had barely played to date. Inexperienced but fearless, Sutherland opened the third overtime with a three-pointer, and the Tigers never looked back. Melvin Booker, who finished with twenty-one points and a school-record thirteen assists, fouled out after playing fifty-two minutes and was replaced by Reggie Smith, forced into action after missing three weeks with a badly sprained ankle. But it was another senior, Lamont Frazier, who finally put the game away. He hit a series of free throws in the final five minutes, including two with 3.8 seconds to play to give Missouri a four-point edge. A three-pointer by Garris at the buzzer made no difference. Missouri won 108-107, and the Tiger players milled about in a euphoric mix of jubilation and exhaustion. Norm Stewart, as tired as his team, was just glad the game didn't last any longer. "We had the wounded in there," said the coach. "I guess the women and children would have been next."