ST. LOUIS -- There was no panic when the shots refused to fall for 9-1/2 minutes and the 20-point lead dwindled to just five.
Illinois survived the drought by turning up the intensity on the other end.
"To be honest, I don't think we took that many bad shots," said Malcolm Hill, who had 21 points in a 68-63 victory over Missouri in the annual Braggin' Rights game on Wednesday night. "We didn't tie that to our defense, and I think we did a great job sticking with it."
Hill drove the baseline for a basket that ended the scoreless stretch and put Illinois up by seven with 6:52 to go, and hit a 3-pointer at the shot clock buzzer with just over five minutes left. Kendrick Nunn hit two free throws to clinch it with seven seconds remaining and Hill yanked off his jersey during the post-game celebration, mimicking the move by Rayvonte Rice last year after hitting the winning 3-pointer as time expired.
"The first 25 minutes we played about as well as we've played all year at both ends of the floor," coach John Groce said. "The thing I was most proud about was our defense, by far."
Nunn had 19 points and season-best 11 rebounds for his first double-double for Illinois (8-5), which has won five in a row overall and three straight in the neutral site series.
Wes Clark had a career best 21 points with four 3-pointers for Missouri (5-6), which has lost three in a row. Kevin Puryear added 12 points and Russell Woods had seven points and career-high 10 rebounds.
"We'll take the good from it," Clark said. "We know we have some fight."
Illinois led 50-30 with 16:13 to go but missed 11 straight shots and three free throws while Missouri climbed back into it with a 15-0 run, including seven points from Clark.
"I tell him he has to be our go-to guy and tonight he brought it," Woods said.
Nunn scored eight points -- including back-to-back dunks -- in a 14-2 run that put Illinois in control at 35-21 with 3:39 to go in the first half. A 9-3 run to open the second half seemingly put it out of reach.
There were thousands of empty seats, especially in the upper bowl on the north side of the Scottrade Center, for what annually has been the toughest ticket in town. Enthusiasm waned with the two schools combining for a 12-10 record and neither ranked for the second straight year, although those in attendance included Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and Missouri football coaches present and past, Barry Odom and Gary Pinkel.
Anderson said he had a lot more to worry about than attendance, but added:
"It's the worst possible day of the year to play, Dec. 23," Anderson said. "It's still a great atmosphere -- they lost five games, we lost five games, so maybe it didn't have that luster."
Illinois is dependent on Hill and Nunn, who entered averaging 18.5 and 18.4 points, and both delivered. Michael Finke added 16 points with a team-high three 3-pointers for the Fighting Illini, who overcame 40 percent shooting and a 43-32 rebounding deficit.
"When situations get tough, we're looked upon to get the team going and keep the team together," Hill said.
Illinois: Dec. 30 at home against Michigan in Big Ten opener.
Missouri: Tuesday at home against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
- Pat Adams
- Ted Valentine
- Mike Eades