ST. LOUIS |First you establish the facts.
Missouri scored eight points in 9.5 seconds, turning a one-point lead into a 75-64 sprint past Illinois to the Braggin’ Rights trophy for the second straight year.
Six of those points came in a span of 1.2 seconds. All within the final 40.2 seconds of a rough-and-tumble -- usual between these two border rivals -- game when Mizzou outscored the Illini 13-3 in the final 40 seconds. Which capped off a 21-7 Missouri run in the final 4 minutes.
So how do you explain it?
“The fastest 40 minutes,” MU’s lone senior, Justin Safford, said, falling back on the motto by which Missouri basketball is known under Coach Mike Anderson. “You never know what’s going to happen. You look at the clock sometimes and guys tend to panic and stuff.”
“We do it every day in practice,” Safford said. “That’s a lot of time for us.”
Ilinois contributed in no small part to the eight in 9.5 blitz with an intentional foul on 7-foot center Mike Tisdale and a technical on Coach Bruce Webber.
But it was mostly what Anderson called a bit of “back atcha” by the Tigers.
Illinois had just drawn within 62-61 on D.J. Richardson’s three.
Missouri took the ball almost out of the net and out of bounds, with Kim English hitting Marcus Denmon on the left side. Denmon turned and fired a pass to Laurence Bowers, streaking unimpeded to the basket at the other end of the Scottrade Center.
As Bowers went up for the basket, Tisdale put his hands in Bowers’ back. Did Tisdale push Bowers? Official John Higgins ruled he did, and called the intentional foul.
Bowers stepped to the free throw line and hit two free ones for a 66-61 lead with 40.2 seconds to play.
“It was a bang-bang play that happens in the game,” Tisdale said. “I’ve got to be smarter than that, obviously, and not commit something that dumb.”
Bowers said he felt Tisdale’s hands on his back.
“I wasn’t sure if I made the basket because he pushed me while I was in the air,” Bowers said. “I didn’t see the ball go through.
“It was a big play, obviously.”
It was the kind of play Anderson coaches as coming from a refusal to ponder what the other team may just have done.
“Make it or miss, we’re going to push the ball back at you,” Anderson said.
English then took the ball out of bounds, another benefit of the intentional foul call. He hit Denmon cutting to the basket, and with 39 seconds to play Denmon laid it in for a 68-61 Missouri lead.
With 30.7 seconds left, Illinois coach Bruce Webber -- having officially lost his mind in screaming at Higgins -- was called for a technical foul. By Higgins.
Denmon went to the line and hit both technical free throws.
And there you had it, Missouri on top 70-61.
Eight points in just under 10 seconds.
Game over. No. 9 Missouri 11-1 and No. 21 Illinois a very shell-shocked 10-3.
Things started out badly for Missouri long before the opening tip. English strained his right Achilles tendon and hobbled through pre-game warm-ups.
Still English started the game and came up with five rebounds, three steals and three assists in the first half.
Illinois dominated the paint and the offensive boards in those first 20 minutes. With Tisdale grabbing 10 of his game-high 13 rebounds, the Illini out-rebounded MU 30-20 in the first half.
The Illini held a 14-5 bulge on the offensive boards, rebounding eight of their own 14 misses.
Illinois led by eight points with 8:06 left in the foirst half, but Missouri scrapped back. And when Denmon hit his only basket of the half -- a 3-pointer with 26 seconds left -- Missouri had a 27-27 tie at the break.
Missouri seemed to be playing from behind most of the night, much to the displeasure of the Missouri fans in the crowd of 21,634.
One Missouri fan was kicked out of the arena after Higgins had heard enough and gave him the boot.
Five Missouri players wound up scoring in double figures. Denmon finished with 15 points, Bowers with 13. Ricardo Ratliffe scored 12 points, Safford 11 and Michael Dixon -- back off a two-game suspension -- scored 10.
Mike Davis led Illinois with 17 points and Demetri McCamey had 14.
The game was tied 58-58 with 1:47 left when first Dixon, then Denmon turned in game-changing plays.
Dixon drove the right side and lofted a high bank shot over Tisdale that found the net for a 60-58 Missouri lead.
Denmon nearly stole the ball at half court before Weber called a time out. When the Illini tried to inbound the ball at half court, Denmon stepped in front of the pass, then fired it to Ratliffe for a layup that put Missouri up 62-58 with 56.5 seconds to play.
And then, of course, the real drama began to unfold, much to the delight of Missouri and much to the bitter disappointment of Illinois.
FIRST HALFKey play: Marcus Denmon had missed all five of his first-half shots when he let loose a three that swished with 26 seconds left and pulled Missouri into a 27-27 tie.Key stat: The 10 rebounds by Illinois 7-footer Mike Tisdale was half the total for the entire MU team in the first half.
SECOND HALFKey play: Tisdale being called for an intentional foul for pushing Laurence Bowers in the back turned a two-point play into a four-point play and a five-point MU lead with 40.2 seconds left.Key stat: When Marcus Denmon followed up Bowers’ four-point play with a layup with 39 seconds to play, Missouri had scored six points in 1.2 seconds.
NOTES – Missouri will most certainly sustain its No. 9 ranking and may improve it in the next AP rankings, not playing again until Dec. 27 at Mizzou Arena in a game against Northern Illinois at 7 p.m. Three days later Missouri plays host to Old Dominion and then winds up its non-conference scheduled playing host to North Alabama on Jan. 5.