Saturday, March 3, 2007

1993-94 Redux: Missouri 108, Illinois 107

(Lots of good stuff here. I need to get me a copy of this game on DVD. Anyone? Anyone? And seriously...Norm’s “278-point favorite” line was fantastic.)

December 22, 1993: Odds Are MU, Illinois in for a Tussle

of the Tribune's staff

Norm Stewart and Lou Henson are better basketball coaches than oddsmakers.

Sunday, after his Missouri Tigers beat Coppin State 64-63 at the Hearnes Center, Stewart installed Illinois as an unbelievable favorite for tonight's game in St. Louis.

“They beat Chicago State last night 285-12,” Stewart said. Actually it was Illini 121, Cougars 52, the largest margin of victory in Illinois history, which dates back to 1906. “I figure if we played Chicago State, we'd beat them one on a last-second shot,” Stewart said. “They're a 278-point favorite going into the game.”

But wait, Henson is coming to town with a sandbagging effort worthy of the peak flooding period last summer. He said Missouri should be favored over No. 19 Illinois tonight at the St. Louis Arena.

“They have everything we have, plus they have the experience,” Henson said yesterday. “And they're probably more athletic than we are.”

Both programs are making repairs after NCAA probation. The Illini are starting two newcomers; they are the team's No. 2 and 3 scorers.

At 6-foot-9, 262 pounds, Shelly Clark provides inside strength to pair with Deon Thomas. Freshman Kiwane Garris has taken over a vacancy at point guard.

“He's getting better,” Henson said of Garris. “We need him not only to score but to deliver the ball, to get it to the right place.

“We like him. We don't want to trade him for any freshman that we've played so far.”

Henson said he's leery of matching Garris up with Missouri senior Melvin Booker; Missouri might have to see more of that matchup than it wants. Senior guard Reggie Smith remains out with an ankle sprain suffered Dec. 2 at Arkansas. Guard Julian Winfield and center Chris Heller joined the sprained ankle brigade in practice Monday. Winfield was listed as questionable, Heller doubtful, for tonight's game.

A truly pivotal matchup will be in the middle between 6-9 seniors Jevon Crudup and Thomas.

Crudup has scored 23 points in each of the Tigers' last two games, shooting 65 percent from the field with 27 rebounds. Thomas, who became the Illini's all-time leading scorer earlier this season, is leading Illinois with 22.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.

Like Missouri, Illinois has not won away from home. Its only road game was a 74-65 loss at Marquette.

“The other ballclubs that we've played, they've been good, but here at home we should have won,” Henson said.

“We don't have anything to hang our hat on.

“I think Norm says that his team should be playing better, and he's probably right. I think our ballclub should be playing better, and I know I'm right.”

Stewart hopes the setting in St. Louis, where the more than 18,000 seats have been sold out for weeks, will prompt his team to elevate its game.

“It's a great atmosphere,” Stewart said. “I just hope that we can play much better than anything that we've even been close to.

“To me, that type of ballgame will bring out the best in you. That's when you should play your best.

“I like to go and to be able to sit down and the noise level's so loud you don't know that you're sitting. That's when it's good. That's what I grew up with, and that's what I like.”

Missouri has won two consecutive games in the annual border rivalry after Illinois took eight in a row.

In keeping with his line on the game, Stewart remembered the trophy that goes to the winner in this series. He once forgot another trophy that accompanied the Big Eight holiday tournament championship.

“I went into Kansas City,” Stewart said. “Chuck Neinas was the commissioner, and he asked me where the trophy was. I said, `We're going to win it again so I didn't bring it.' I'm going to take this one into St. Louis.”

Henson can remember what used to be an old standby in Champaign. “That thing is taller than I am, I think,” he said. “It's a lot of trouble to get it back and forth, but I'd like to go through the trouble again.”
December 23, 1993

of the Tribune's staff

Missouri came to the St. Louis Arena just wanting to play a complete game in its annual matchup with Illinois. The Tigers might have settled for just a good first half. They got and gave much more than was bargained for.

In their farewell to the Arena, the Tigers produced multiple comebacks to beat the No. 19 Fighting Illini 108-107 in triple overtime.

“We've got the sick and wounded playing for us,” Missouri coach Norm Stewart said. “I guess women and children were next.”

Three of Missouri's starters including leading scorer Jevon Crudup and point guard Melvin Booker fouled out. Mark Atkins, without whose three-point touch Missouri wouldn't have made up a nine-point deficit in the last 1:20 of regulation, and reserves Julian Winfield and Marlo Finner also fouled out.

The Tigers (6-1) stayed in and eventually won with freshmen Jason Sutherland, Derek Grimm and Kelly Thames joining seniors Lamont Frazier and Reggie Smith, making his first appearance in three weeks, on the floor.

With the additional 15 minutes, the Tigers got at least the 40 good ones they've been searching for all season.

Crudup led Missouri to by far its best first half of the season. He was eight of 11 from the field and scored 18 of his team-high 22 points in the first half. Aided by Marlo Finner's three-pointer in the final seconds, Missouri led 42-38 at halftime.

“We know how good Crudup is,” Illinois coach Lou Henson said. “He's beaten us every year. The last three years he's been a horse in there. He's devastating. He really killed us.”

Missouri won its third straight game in this series, the last two by one point. The Tigers' struggle came in the second half this time.

Things looked under control when Finner gave Missouri a 61-48 lead with 12 minutes to play.

Sophomore guard Richard Keene warmed up Illinois with consecutive three-pointers, then junior center Shelly Clark started connecting.

Freshman point guard Kiwane Garris made two free throws with 4:49 left for a 66-65 Illinois lead. Missouri would be left to scramble for its existence until the unlikely crew of survivors took control in the third overtime.

“The second half, a couple of the overtimes, we had our drought,” Stewart said. “We were into our `prevent' offense.”

After getting down 74-65, the Tigers concentrated on three-pointers. Frazier and Atkins each made two around a 15-footer by Booker in the last 73 seconds of regulation.

“We really botched it there toward the end there really badly,” Henson said.

Crudup fouled out with 1:02 left.

Frazier said he told Booker, ` “Now it's up to us, the perimeter guys, to step up even more.' “

Frazier's three with four seconds left tied it at 79.

After Atkins and Finner fouled out in the first overtime, Thames scored Missouri's last two baskets of overtime. Booker drove the middle, then dumped the ball off to Thames for one of his MU-record 13 assists.

Thames, who led Missouri with eight rebounds, dunked to tie the game at 88.

Winfield committed his fifth foul as Garris drove the lane. With no time on the clock and the lane vacated, he had two free throws and needed only to make one to give Illinois the victory. He missed both.

“Basically, I just went up there and tried to get it over with,” Garris said. “I just shot them poorly.”

By that time, the tone of the game had changed in another way. Midway through the second half, Crudup was dominating Missouri's scoring while Illinois was well-balanced.

With some personnel moves dictated by the fouls, all five Tiger starters wound up in double figures as did the Illini starting five. Garris led all scorers with 31 points.

Illinois got 13 points from its reserves. Led by Sutherland's six, including the third-period three-pointer that put MU ahead to stay, the Tigers got 17 points from the bench.

The Tigers won despite Illinois taking 23 more free throws and a 53-42 advantage on the boards.

Crudup virtually starred in one game, then stared at another from the bench.

“It was an important ballgame for us as far as our last game here, bragging rights,” Crudup said.

“Especially for the seniors it was a game that we wanted to get out and play well.”

Booker said as much to the team on the floor when he fouled out with a 100-99 lead in the third overtime.

“I was telling them, `This is my last time playing here. Don't lose it now,”' Booker said. “You can't feel tired in those type games. As bad as you really want to win, you have to just dig deeper and deeper.”

After the first triple-overtime game for Missouri, the Tigers left satisfied. “That right there was one of the best games I've been in,” Frazier said.

The series is scheduled to resume next year in the new Kiel Center.

“That's great to win the last one in the building,” Stewart said.

The Tigers will leave with happy and extensive memories from this one.
December 23, 1993: Growing Pains Parlay into Gains

Don't believe everything you read on a scoreboard.

Haphazard perusal of the chandelier on steroids that hovers over the St. Louis Arena floor might have led fans to believe that last night's Missouri-Illinois basketball game was decided prematurely.

With about 30 seconds left and the Illini leading by five points, the scoreboard flashed “Illinois wins.”

Funny, somebody forgot to tell the Tigers, who preferred to save their light reading for the court. They read the Illini, sized them up then cut out Illinois' 19th-ranked heart 108-107 in triple overtime.

In doing so, the Tigers reminded us that national rankings don't win games. More important, they served notice to their doubters that patience pays that the last month has indeed been one of growing pains with seniors and freshmen trying to meld and that this is a capable team when it wants to be.

And oh, how they wanted it last night.

We could tell that much from the start as MU's Jevon Crudup used Illinois center Shelly Clark like a Kleenex in the low post and on the baseline. We could tell that much when MU coach Norm Stewart tested the officials early with a heated stroll along the sideline.

But never was it more evident that the Tigers wanted to do more than look good than when they fumbled a 13-point lead with 12 minutes left and fell behind by seven with less than a minute to go. Crudup had fouled out. But MU boomeranged, the seniors hitting four of five three-pointers and the miss turning into a Melvin Booker put-back.

The seniors didn't just nurse MU back to health, they brought their team back from the dead. Back from moral victory to bragging rights victory, the kind of victory that can help transform a season and plays well when Big Dance invitations are being engraved.

The last month has left more room for gagging than bragging. Missouri suffered the worst loss in school history, barely registered on the electrocardiogram in the first half of each game and had to scramble to put away some solid but hardly brand-name schools.

Hey, what do you expect when you're trying to fuse the future (Julian Winfield, Kelly Thames, Jason Sutherland and Derek Grimm) with your soon-to-be past (Booker, Crudup, Lamont Frazier, Reggie Smith, Chris Heller and Mark Atkins)?

So, Stewart didn't set outlandish expectations for this game.

“We wanted just to play better,” Stewart said.

“We had distractions and other things, but despite all that, we just didn't play well. There was no rhyme or reason to what we were doing. Tonight ... we came out feeling pretty good about our efforts.”

As well they should.

Like a good running back who runs stronger as the game progresses, MU thrived as the extra periods and pressure piled up.

When Illinois crowded Crudup defensively, Booker responded time and again with buckets off dribble penetration; Marlo Finner yanked critical rebounds and even buried a three-pointer at the halftime buzzer; Sutherland maxed out the hustle meter and hit a three to open the third OT; Grimm provided some key post defense and was three for three on overtime free throws; and Smith made his first appearance in four games to run the team in the third extra period despite not being fully healed from an ankle injury.

In short, the Tigers did what they could to redefine the term team effort.

And no matter how many victories pass, there's nothing like the ones that bear so many signatures, Stewart said.

“When you see guys forget everything no selfishness, just concerned about one thing, just trying to do something together and then it finally comes out and you win, you never replace that feeling.

“... That's a tough loss, but I hope that Illinois would feel that they were beaten by a team that played hard.”

And by a team that should be worth reading about as the season wears on.