The Missouri Tigers have reclaimed Braggin’ Rights.
Facing each other for the 42nd annual Braggin’ Rights matchup in St. Louis, the Illinois Fighting Illini and home-state Tigers treated fans who braved the snow and record-breaking cold temperatures to an up-tempo, intense affair that culminated in a dominant 93-71 Mizzou victory.
“I thought our team was connected going into (this game),” Mizzou men’s basketball head coach Dennis Gates said. “I’m proud of our growth. I’m proud of our fans. It was an electric atmosphere, unbelievable atmosphere here in St. Louis.”
This year’s rendition featured a stark contrast from last year’s meeting, which ended in a 25-point victory for the Fighting Illini, who earned yet another NCAA Tournament berth this past March and carried the nation’s No. 16 ranking into this meeting.
After falling in an embarrassing 28-point defeat less than two weeks ago to kansas in their other rivalry contest, the veteran-heavy Tigers did not let it happen again.
Senior forward Kobe Brown scored a season-high and Mizzou Braggin’ Rights record 31 points to lead the Tigers, performing at the All-SEC caliber that fans have been hoping for all season long. His effect was felt all over the floor, as he tallied eight assists, five rebounds and four steals as well.
“I’m proud of Kobe for being able to have a breakout game, which was coming for him,” Gates said. “I just saw the level of focus that he had being able to come out in this moment, the Braggin’ Rights game.”
Not far behind him, however, was graduate guard D’Moi Hodge.
“These two guys (Brown and Hodge) are elite players, they have a future and they will get their name called,” Gates said.
Utilizing his skilled off-ball movement, Hodge notched 20 total points, including a 44% mark from three-pointers. He drilled a pair of those triples midway through the first half, aiding in a 15-point Tigers’ surge that flipped all the momentum onto the Mizzou side.
The Tigers entered the night with the nation’s No. 4 scoring offense, a nation-best 12.7 steals per game and the 18th most three-pointers per game (10.0). They utilized each of those strengths against the Fighting Illini.
Mizzou forced 17 turnovers, including nine in the first half, en route to tallying 33 total points off turnovers. Those miscues cost the Fighting Illini several opportunities to establish momentum and counteracted their advantage on the boards, which Illinois won 37-28.
Each team struggled from the field early on, as they worked to acclimate to the new playing environment surround by thousands of passionate fanbases from both sides.
Those early nerves, however, soon dissipated for the Tigers.
Nearly seven minutes into the game, senior forward Noah Carter tied the game at 12 points apiece and from there, it was all Mizzou.
The Tigers raced to a 20-3 run, utilizing their suffocating defense and a revamped efficiency from beyond the arc to take control of the tempo. After missing its first four three-point attempts to begin the game, Mizzou connected on four of its next five attempts, including a trio of long-distance makes from Hodge.
Defensively, the Tigers forced nine consecutive missed field goals from the Fighting Illini and scored 12 points off Illinois turnovers during the stretch.
The effort resulted in a chorus of “M-I-Z, Z-O-U” chants ringing through the Enterprise Center crowd, which appeared to motivate the Tigers into continuing to press down the gas pedal.
“I’m proud of the moment and what our guys have stood for thus far,” Gates said.
Terrance Shannon, Jr., Illinois’ leading scorer and a future NBA lottery selection, finally broke the Fighting Illini scoring drought with a pair of free throws. Despite scoring over his season average of 17.8 points, however, the Big Ten star had little effect in quieting Mizzou with only nine first half points.
The Mizzou offense did not remain stagnant for long though, as the Tigers rallied for yet another double-digit run. This time around, junior forward Ronnie DeGray III led the scoring display with five of his 10 points coming during this stretch alone.
After the flurry, the Tigers entered the halftime locker room with an emphatic 51-27 advantage.
Following the halftime intermission, Illinois looked to reestablish momentum and right the ship in an attempt to come back, and they started on the right foot with a quick three points from Shannon Jr.
In a game of runs though, the Dennis Gates-led group continued to produce them.
Mizzou strung together a trio of runs, all six points or more, to continue pushing ahead on a 23-12 stretch and build its lead to a commanding 74-39. A plethora of Tigers aided in the dominant takeover, but graduate guard Tre Gomillion left an exclamation point on the last of these with a pair of dunks that electrified the crowd even more.
Amidst the mass exodus of points, however, Brown once again produced a memorable moment, essentially putting the finishing touches on a record-breaking performance.
The 6-foot-8 senior levitated into the air and launched a three-point jumper while being fouled and made it. On the floor, Brown pounded his chest in jubilation, as “Kobe” chants rained down upon the court and then he capped the four-point play with a free throw.
“Having that confidence to know my teammates want me to shoot the ball, or Coach wants me to shoot the ball (helps),” Brown said. “It’s hard to miss when you have someone’s confidence.”
Illinois discovered its shooting touch in the latter part of the second half, but by then, it was too late. The Fighting Illini ended on a 16-10 run, making the final score of 93-71 a little more respectable.
A pair of Illinois players joined Shannon, Jr. in double-figures, as Matthew Mayer and Jayden Epps tallied 16 and 12 points, respectively. As a whole, the Fighting Illini, shot 40.3% from he field, including a 22.6% mark from beyond the arc.
Mizzou answered with a 59.3% field goal percentage and a 50% three-point percentage, as graduate guard DeAndre Gholston (15 points) and DeGray (10 points) joined Brown and Hodge in double-figures.
“[DeGray] was huge for us,” Brown said. “He’s definitely a guy that is going to come out with rebounds and steals, just those tough plays, and I just knew he was going to help us down the stretch (of the season).”
The Tigers also excelled at sharing the ball, totaling 23 assists. Five different Mizzou players tallied at least two assists, including four-assist games from senior point guard Sean East II and graduate point guard Nick Honor.
“That’s a great team stat, a team goal of ours,” Gates said.
The victory improved Mizzou to 11-1 for only the sixth time in 40 years and marked the fifth consecutive time that the Tigers have defeated a ranked Illinois team in the Braggin’ Rights series.
Looking to build off this ranked victory, Mizzou will host No. 19 Kentucky on Dec. 28 to begin Southeastern Conference play and pick up another marquee victory in hopes of an NCAA Tournament berth come March.
Illinois, meanwhile, will host Bethune-Cookman on Dec. 29 while looking to rediscover its identity and bounce-back before the heart of Big Ten conference play begins.