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Mizzou’s best moments in its storied basketball rivalry with Illinois

Taking a look at some of the (best) memorable moments in the Braggin’ Right rivalry.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Missouri Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

A lot has changed for Missouri men’s basketball since 1976. It’s built a new arena, played in three different conferences, and also saw an eight-year period where it didn’t play Kansas. But one thing that hasn’t changed is its annual meeting with the Illinois Fighting Illini, and every year except 2020, both teams have met in St. Louis in December.

Braggin’ Rights is one of the country’s most unique rivalries, since the two heated rivals have never been in the same conference. It's also Missouri’s longest continued series. This Friday marks the 54th meeting between both schools in men’s basketball, and while Illinois holds the all-time advantage 33-20, the Tigers have had some memorable moments against the Illini, which we’ll take a look at here.

Honorable Mentions

Dec. 23, 1991: No. 16 Mizzou 61, Illinois 44: Derrick Chevious was never able to beat Illinois. Neither was Doug Smith, but Anthony Peeler was able to. In December of 1991, he fouled out, but not before he tied Melvin Booker with 13 points. The Tigers’ leader was Jevon Crudup, with a double-double of 16 points and ten rebounds. But more importantly, this game ended an eight-year losing streak to Illinois, and it came in dominant fashion.

Dec. 23, 2009: Mizzou 81, Illinois 68 (We’re gonna party like it’s 1999): Quin Snyder beat Illinois just once. It took Mike Anderson three tries before he finally picked up a victory over the Illini. This meant that Missouri experienced a nine-year losing streak to Illinois, an Illini program that was pretty dang good in the early 2000s. But Mizzou finally broke the drought behind Kim English’s 24-point performance, which included him going 5-of-10 from behind the arc.

Dec. 22, 2012: No. 12 Mizzou 82, No. 10 Illinois 73: Earnest Ross gave Mizzou the lead for good late in the second half, and the Tigers played keep away with the lead over the final five minutes of play. It was the first time since 2001 that both teams were ranked in the top 15 while playing each other.

Dec. 8, 1981: Mizzou 78, Illinois 68 (OT): I’m only 22 years old, but knowing the history of this team, I would put the 81-82 squad up there with 88-89, 08-09, and 11-12. That’s my personal opinion. Missouri, in the middle of winning four consecutive Big 8 regular season titles, screeched out to a 19-0 start. The first test came against Illinois in the Checkerdome, where Ricky Frazier scored 28 in an overtime victory. This would be the Tigers’ last victory over the Illini until 1991.

Dec. 12, 2020: Mizzou 81, No. 6 Illinois 78: We know how weird 2020 was. With COVID wreaking havoc on the world, it impacted the sports landscape, and for the first time since 1980, the Braggin’ Rights game was not played in St. Louis. Luckily, a coin flip moved it to Mizzou Arena. Perhaps Cuonzo Martin’s most talented team – Dru Smith, Javon Pickett, Jeremiah Tilmon, Kobe Brown, Mark Smith, Xavier Pinson, and even current Jawhawk Parker Braun – took it to No. 6 Illinois for the program’s first top 10 victory since coming away victorious over the Illini in 2012. Four Tigers tallied double-figures in front of a sparse crowd in Columbia.

No. 5, Dec. 22, 2011: No. 9 Mizzou 78, No. 25 Illinois 74. Ricardo Ratliffe’s late game heroics help propel MU to victory.

Mizzou started the season off as the nation’s No. 25 team, but three days before Christmas, the Tigers soared to No. 9 after victories over Notre Dame, California, and Villanova as the Madison Square Garden. Mizzou soared in front of Illinois by double-digits in the first half, but Illinois, not going away without a fight, went ahead late in the second half.

That’s when Ricardo Ratliffe took over. Taking a beautiful behind-the-back pass from Phil Pressey (he finished with 18), Ratliffe finished tough at the rim, putting MU back up 68-67. After D.J. Richardson made a trio of free throws to put Illinois back on top, Ratliffe, on the next offensive trip, gathered a loose ball tying it up. Switching to the defensive end, he swatted an entry pass to Myles Leonard, resulting in a one by Kim English, putting Mizzou up for good. Ratliffe, still not done, missed a putback dunk off a Marcus Denmon missed but managed to grab his own miss for another and one.

Six of his 14 points came in the final three minutes, and more importantly, Mizzou won its fourth straight over Illinois, which tied its longest streak over the Fighting Illini after doing it from 1991-1994. What a season this was. Only if…

No. 4, Dec. 4, 1979: Mizzou 67, Illinois 66 (OT). Mizzou’s last trip and victory in Champaign, Illinois.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The final time Mizzou played at The State Farm Center, formerly known as Assembly Hall (not to be confused with Indiana’s Assembly Hall), it was to open up the 1979-80 season. Mizzou won the first of four Big 8 regular season titles and won a pair of NCAA Tournament games this season, but it all started with opening up the year at Illinois.

The Fighting Illini were a good team themselves, and this was the first year that Lou Henson experienced postseason play with Illinois. Led by Eddie Jackson, the Illini finished 22-13 and placed third in the NIT where they defeated UNLV led by coaching legend Jerry Tarkanian.

On Dec. 4, 1981 though, it was Missouri, led by a relatively young but talented squad. The veteran leader of this bunch was Larry Drew, current assistant of the Los Angeles Clippers and former head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks. Drew tallied 25 points as the Tigers left Champaign with a 67-66 overtime victory. From 1980 on, the Braggin’ Rights would be held in St. Louis.

No. 3, Dec. 10, 1955: Mizzou 74, No. 8 Illinois 73. Stormin’ Norman leads Mizzou to a player.

The 1950s and 60s seem like a lost era for Mizzou basketball. Between 1950-1969, the Tigers finished with a winning record just six times, not many teams made the NCAA Tournament, and they were in the middle of a 36-year drought of not winning the Big 6/7/8 regular season crown (Right now it’s 29 years).

Mizzou still had some great players who played in some great games. One of these players was Norm Stewart. Long before being MU’s head man for over three decades, he was a heck of a basketball player for Ol’ Mizzou. He averaged 17.7 points and 9.8 rebounds according to College Basketball Reference. His senior season, he averaged 24.1 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. In 1955, against an Illini team that stayed in the top 10 for most of the year, Stewart dropped 27 second half points, according to Michael Atchison’s True Sons A Century of Missouri Tigers Basketball. It was enough as the Tigers overcame a 15-point deficit for a one-point victory at Brewer Fieldhouse.

No. 2, Dec. 22, 2022: Mizzou 93, No. 16 Illinois 71. Kobe Brown’s career day leads to a season defining victory over the Fighting Illini.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Missouri Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

December 22 last year was really the kickstart for a lot of things. It was hard to know what this Missouri team was around this time last year, much like this year. The Tigers started 9-0, defeating a bunch of mid-majors and Wichita State on the road. But then they got hammered by Kansas, and it took a buzzer-beater to beat UCF in Sunrise, FL.

Illinois, meanwhile, took care of business against then No. 8 UCLA, an excellent Bruins team. While the Illini lost to Virginia and Maryland, they took care of No. 2 Texas in the Garden, an Elite 8 team, before losing to Penn State. This led to the Braggin’ Rights game, where, as expected, Illinois was favored despite Mizzou winning three of the previous four.

But Kobe Brown took it to Brad Underwood’s bunch, and this was where we truly found out how special Brown would become for this team and how special Dennis Gates’ first squad in Columbia was.

Mizzou absolutely controlled this game from pretty much start to finish building a 51-27 halftime lead on its way to a 22-point victory. There was no answer for Brown whatsoever as he dropped a career-high 31 points, the most ever by a Tiger against the Illini.

D’Moi Hodge finished with 20 more, DeAndre Gholston, the hero at UCF and Tennessee added 15, while Ronnie DeGray III had perhaps his best night in a (Mizzou) black and gold uniform with 10. This frigid cold night in St. Louis was magnificent. If Gates is here for a good time, this will be treasured as his first signature win.

No. 1, Dec. 22, 1993: Mizzou 108, No. 19 Illinois 107 (3 OT). The turning point for the 1993-94 season

All Kiwane Harris had to do was hit one free throw. Just one, and a top 20 Illinois team would’ve come away with a classic double-overtime victory, while Mizzou, a team that got beaten by 52 points at Arkansas and narrowly beat Jackson State and Coppin State, would’ve still been searching for that signature victory that would have turned the season around.

But, for the Tigers fortunes, he missed, and the MU side of the Checkerdome erupted as the game went into a third overtime that saw Missouri pull away victoriously.

This game had it all and should be remembered as one of the greatest in program history. Mizzou led by 13 in the second half. Illinois pulled ahead by seven, but the Tigers ripped off a late rally with under a minute to play in regulation to force overtime.

Everyone on Missouri’s roster seemed to contribute, and they really had no choice. While Booker, Crudup, and Lamont Frazier all scored 20 or more points, they all fouled out, so did Mark Atkins and Julian Winfield, and yet, the Tigers pulled away for victory.

The game was a complete turning point for the season. Mizzou was already on a four-game winning streak after getting crushed by Arkansas, but beating the other aforementioned teams isn’t the same as beating a ranked Illinois team. After a classic in the Lou, Mizzou lost just one more game the rest of the regular season, running through the Big 8 with a perfect 14-0 record, earning the No. 1 seed in the big dance, and making an elite eight run.