The Missouri Tigers (7-4) looked to avenge a gargantuan loss at the hands of the Kansas State Wildcats in their road matchup against the Illinois Fighting Illini (5-3), whilst also taking home the Braggin Rights Trophy after being unable to claim it at home last season. Missouri would fight back from a halftime deficit en route to a 69-65 victory, their first true road win of the regular season.
The absence of Angelique Ngalaukulondi in the post was apparent against the Wildcats last week, and it was apparent against the Illini in this matchup as bigs Camille Hobby and Kendal Bostic appeared to be clear offensive focal points for Illinois in this matchup. The pair combined for 22 points in the tilt.
Illinois’ paint presence was well documented going into this matchup, as 60% of their points came from two-point field goals while only a measly 22% of their points came from beyond the arc, meaning Hayley Frank would have to be a difference maker on the defensive side of the ball.
Good play in transition and smart shot selection had the Tigers shooting 7-16 in the first half and posting up a contentious 16-16 tie with the Illini. Grace Slaughter and Frank combined for 11 of the Tigers first 16 points, continuing the pairs hot run of form to being the season. Frank finished with 13 points on 4-8 shooting, while Slaughter finished with eights points on 4-9 shooting.
Similar to the Kansas State game, Missouri won the turnover battle early as they only had two turnovers in the first 13 minutes of the game compared to Illinois’ six. Missouri Head Coach Robin Pingeton knew better than anybody of how crucial turnover margin is to winning basketball games.
The second quarter had a defensive flavor to it, as the two teams combined for just six points in the first five minutes of the frame, with Illinois clinging to a 20-18 lead behind Bostic’s combination of elite defense and post play. That two-point lead quickly became an eight point, 28-20 lead, for the Illini as the turnover bug hit the Tigers again as the turnover tally was now tied seven to seven between both squads.
A quick 5-0 run to end the half had Missouri in healthy territory, just down 30-25 but if the Tigers learned anything from the drubbing to Kansas State, it’s that the second half performance is crucial towards winning a basketball game.
The Tigers came out guns ablazing to begin the second half, as they raced back to within one of Illinois just three minutes into the third, but Illinois would continue to find ways to extend their lead. Missouri got hot from beyond the arc in transition, a skill that Illinois Head Coach Shauna Green said she wanted to curtail.
Missouri reclaimed the lead with just under six minutes left in the third quarter, as a Mama Dembele steal and layup put them up 37-35. Missouri shot 3/6 from beyond the arc to begin the third quarter, as Abby Feit drained a massive three to give the Tigers their largest lead of the night at 42-37.
The Tigers’ pace of play came at a much faster rate, as Dembele was very keen to push the ball forward quickly so that Missouri could pickup transition buckets. However, this is a rivalry and Illinois wasn’t going to let this game crawl away from them, as they answered with a 5-0 run to knot the game back up at 42-42.
That run became a 7-0 run but Dembele answered with a layup as time expired in the third quarter to keep the game tied at 44-44, setting up for arguably Missouri’s most intense fourth quarter of the season up to this point.
Abby Feit was a key asset for the Tigers in this game, as her game from beyond the arc which was highly advertised when she transferred to Missouri in the summer, started to shine down the stretch.
Genesis Bryant burned Pingeton’s team for 20 points in their matchup last season at Mizzou Arena, and with just over eight minutes left in the fourth quarter she had 14 points for the Fighting Illini. Bryant’s totals kept skyrocketing throughout the fourth quarter, as she sunk four three-pointers in the first five minutes of the final frame. Bryant finished the game with 20 points on 7-21 shooting.
Mama Dembele proved to be Missouri’s ace in the waning minutes of the fourth, as she picked up a clutch and-one to silence the Illinois crowd and give Missouri a 61-59 lead with 3:50 left in regulation. Dembele finished with 20 points and four assists on 8-15 shooting.
Two consecutive Frank layups extended Missouri’s lead to six, but with Illinois’ hot fourth quarter shooting no lead was out of leach, as the Illini were shooting 5/7 from beyond the arc in the final 10. Frank then took a clutch charge with 1:22 left off of Bostic to give the Tigers the ball back with a chance to put the game in the dirt.
After fouling, Abbey Schreacke missed two key free throws to keep Illinois within striking distance of the Tigers, meaning Missouri would need to rely on their defense to pull this game out and secure the Braggin’ Rights in the state of Illinois for the third consecutive time.
27.9 seconds left and the Tigers found their ace free throw shooter Frank at the line, but an uncharacteristic miss from the over 92% shooter from the charity strike made it a 66-63 game with Illinois holding possession of the ball with a chance to tie it.
In her 125th game for Missouri, it was Hayley Frank who sunk the clutch free throws that would put the game away for the Tigers as they would hang on to a 69-66 result that would push them to 8-4 on the season.
Missouri shot 26-55 (47.3%) compared to Illinois’ 25-60 (41.7%), while Illinois outrebounded them 35-33. Illinois shot pretty poorly from beyond the arc aside from their hot fourth quarter, as they finished 9-26 from beyond the arc.
UP NEXT: Missouri will wrap up non-conference play at home against the Kansas City Roos on Thursday, December 21st at 7 PM CST.