ST. LOUIS (AP) – When Jabari Brown made a 3-pointer with 14.9 seconds left, No. 23 Missouri celebrated as if it had won its fifth consecutive Braggin’ Rights game against Illinois.
This time, though, there was a different ending.
Johnathan Williams III fouled with 4.6 ticks remaining, and Tracy Abrams made both free throws to give the Illini a 65-64 victory.
Missouri’s Tony Criswell heaved a last-ditch attempt from half-court, but the shot fell harmlessly into the stands.
“We just had to make a play,” Jordan Clarkson said. “We had to make a stop at the end of the game. We just didn’t finish the game the way we wanted to.”
Clarkson finished with 25 points, six rebounds and a career-best eight assists. Earnest Ross added 13 for the Tigers (10-1), who entered the game as the lone unbeaten school in the Southeastern Conference.
The Tigers scored their fewest points of the season one game after its previous low in a 66-60 win against Western Michigan.
Missouri coach Frank Haith said the Illini were the more physical team.
“It was a hard-fought game,” he said. “It was like two heavyweight fighters going at it, and I think you’ve got to adjust to the game when it’s going to be officiated like that in terms of the physicality of the game. And they did a better job of that than we did.”
Missouri bungled its final play after Abrams’ free throws, as Criswell’s inbounds pass was slightly behind a streaking Clarkson. The ball caromed off Clarkson’s arm before Criswell ended up with the ball for the final shot.
“It was a tough pass to catch,” Clarkson said. “I was coming down full speed and the ball went behind me a little bit and slipped out of my hand. Tony just got it and I feel like we got a good shot at the basket. That was the only shot we could get.”
Abrams finished with a season-best 22 points and Rayvonte Rice added 14 points for Illinois (10-2), which leads the annual series between the schools 21-12. Abrams finished 7 for 10 at the line.
The Illini were unranked for the pre-Christmas game for the first time in four years, and perhaps learned from a loss at No. 15 Oregon their last time out.
The last four years, the schools entered with a combined 72-7 record. The teams combined for 15 lead changes, setting up the frenzied final seconds.
“We just got to do the little things,” Brown said. “We missed free throws, we had some turnovers. We don’t win or lose the game on that last play. It was an accumulation of things.”
Among those attending were Hall of Fame baseball manager Whitey Herzog, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and the football coaches from both schools, Missouri’s Gary Pinkel and Illinois’ Bob Beckman.
The schools traded runs in the second half that kept it tight, 10-1 by Missouri to go up by near the midway point and 9-0 by Illinois with a pair of three-point plays by Abrams for a two-point lead with 6:17 to go.
Illinois climbed out of an early hole behind 3-point shooting, hitting six of its first 10 – by six players – and led 31-27 at the half. Missouri led 8-0 and had a nine-point cushion at 15-6 after Rice’s second foul with 13:47 to go in the half.
Illinois answered with a 10-0 run the next 3 1/2 minutes, including 3-pointers from Kendrick Nunn and Abrams, and scored seven in a row late in the half for a six-point lead ended by Clarkson’s driving basket with five seconds to go.
“That was a really good ballgame, I think,” Haith said. “Two good teams, playing hard. It comes down to two free throws to lose the game. I like where our team is at.”