Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA — When Kim Anderson was asked to recall his favorite memory from the Missouri-Illinois Braggin’ Rights series, the first-year Missouri basketball head coach didn’t hesitate.
The Tigers’ triple-overtime win in 1993.
“It’s probably the greatest game in the series,” said Anderson, who was an assistant to Norm Stewart at the time. “That’s got to be one of the greater games in college basketball. The part I remember the most is when Kiwane Garris was shooting the free throw, and coach (Stewart) was out on the floor. … I mean, like, way out on the floor. I thought he was going to block the shot.”
Garris, who entered the game shooting 91 percent at the line, missed two potential game-winning free throws, and Missouri won the game an overtime later, 108-107.
Anderson hopes to reduce Illinois’ 28-16 lead in the rivalry game when the Tigers and Fighting Illini tip off at 1 p.m. today at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
Anderson is an endangered species: a current Tiger with memories from the Braggin’ Rights showdown. Few even have knowledge of the game.
“To be honest, I don’t know anything about it,” freshman Montaque Gill-Caesar said Monday.
Gill-Caesar is one of five freshman in Missouri’s rotation, which also includes two transfers.
Freshman Namon Wright said the crowd, which has reached 22,000 people in past years, will be the largest for any game in which he has played. The Los Angeles native watched the previous two Braggin’ Rights games on television.
“I just heard that when you play, the court kind of shakes a little bit,” he said. “It’s like half-and-half fans. Usually, it’s a game to the end.”
Junior Ryan Rosburg, somewhat of an outlier on the team, grew up watching the game. Rosburg attended Marquette High School in Chesterfield, a suburb of St. Louis.
“For Christmas, I would always ask my parents for Braggin’ Rights tickets, so I’ve gone almost every year,” he said.
Anderson said Monday he would discuss the importance of the rivalry with his team as the game approached.
“I’m going to tell them ahead of time,” he said, “but when they walk out on the floor, they’re going to say, ‘This is a pretty big game. This has an NCAA Tournament atmosphere.’”
Missouri hasn’t had too many games played on big stages this season. Attendance has been down at Mizzou Arena as the Tigers have shuffled to a 5-5 record in non-conference play. Missouri’s biggest crowd so far this season came in a 19-point road loss to Oklahoma.
Illinois enters the game with an 8-3 record. Recent home losses to Villanova and Oregon dropped the Fighting Illini from their No. 24 spot in the AP poll.
Illinois is 24th in the nation in scoring, led by Rayvonte Rice’s 17.3 points per game. Malcolm Hill chips in 13.0 points per game, and the two average more than 12 rebounds a contest.
A win for Missouri would be big. The Tigers’ five victories have come against teams from the Horizon League, the Summit League, the Mid-American Athletic Conference, the Colonial Athletic Association and a Division II team. Their five losses, including a shocking season-opening upset at the hands of Missouri-Kansas City, have come by an average of 16.6 points.
“I think we need a signature win, something to just put us over the hump and hopefully get us rolling,” Rosburg said. “And it’d make Christmas a lot better for us.”
Added Anderson: “I think every game is obviously a chance for us to have something positive happen. There hasn’t been a whole lot of confidence-building games so far.”
The Tigers are dealing with a serious lack of experience; just three Tigers have stepped on the court in a Braggin’ Rights game, playing for a grand total of 76 minutes.
The Tigers’ freshman class, however, has shown flashes of potential this season. Gill-Caesar’s 12.6 points per game are a team high among players with more than one game under their belt. The 6-foot-6 guard is shooting just 36.6 percent from the field, however, and has scored just 14 combined points over the span of his past two games.
Wright broke out with a 21-point performance against Chaminade in his first career start and has started every game since. Although, he is averaging fewer than 18 minutes per game in that stretch and six points per game since the Chaminade contest.
Perhaps the most galvanizing spark has come from Jakeenan Gant, who missed the first nine games of the year during an investigation of his eligibility. He scored 13 points in 15 minutes in his first game of the season against Xavier, and the team expects him to provide some of the energy the team has lacked.
But if one freshman has figured out his role, it’s D’Angelo Allen, Anderson said. Allen has committed to playing to his strengths, which include defense and interior passing, coming off the bench for Missouri.
Allen, for the record, is not concerned by the idea of today’s big stage.
“It’s not going to stop me from doing what I’ve got to do,” he said. “If it’s getting boards or anything, I mean, it’s my role. I’m just going to play my role in the game.
“It’s going to be a loud crowd. If it’s loud, don’t matter. Stay focused. Keep my mind right. Just execute through everything.”