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Updated: Wednesday, December 24, 2003 1:24 AM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL RECAP
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(19) Illinois 71, (14) Missouri 70

ST. LOUIS (Ticker) -- Nick Smith helped keep Missouri's senior class winless in the "Braggin' Rights" series.

Smith had a key assist and steal in the final minute as No. 19 Illinois wasted a 21-point lead before holding on for a 71-70 victory over the 14th-ranked Tigers.

Missouri (4-2) trailed throughout before forging a 67-67 tie on Travon Bryant's 3-pointer with 1:29 to go. After a series of timeouts, Illinois broke the deadlock, thanks to a big play by Smith.

Illinois guard Dee Brown found Smith open on the baseline and Smith made a nifty shovel pass to James Augustine for a layup and a 69-67 lead. On the Tigers' next possession, Smith knocked away an entry pass from Arthur Johnson for a steal.

"He's smart, he understands the game and he's competitive," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "He made a big pass to James down the stretch for a big bucket."

Brown missed two at the line with 39 seconds to go, but Johnson's short bank shot rimmed out. Brown drained a pair of free throws with 19 seconds remaining, offsetting a meaningless 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Bryant, Johnson and Rickey Paulding all finished 0-4 in their careers against Illinois (7-2). Bryant and Paulding scored 19 points apiece.

"Coach always talks about flipping a switch on and off and truthfully right now we're not that good at just flipping it on and off," Bryant said. "It has to be on the whole 40 minutes."

Brown scored 14 of his 18 points in the first half as Illinois annihilated Missouri in transition. Brown's fast-break layup opened a 40-19 cushion with 4:23 to go and the Fighting Illini settled for a 42-28 halftime edge.

"It's great for our kids to win without (injured guard Deron Williams) in a great atmosphere like this," said Weber, who became the fourth straight first-year coach to win a Braggin' Rights game. "We said we wanted to be a good team by Christmas."

"They got a run, but it's who battles in the end," Brown said. "Coach always emphasizes just come out with a win, fight."

The Tigers, who shot 32 percent (10-of-31) in the first half, turned in a much better effort after halftime with a series of runs. Illinois cooled and kept Missouri in the game with poor foul shooting, connecting at just 59 percent (19-of-33).

"Coming from behind can take it's toll," Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. "There's no question. Maybe not as much physically as emotionally."

Augustine collected 14 points and 10 rebounds and provided effective post defense against Johnson. Freshman reserve Richard McBride nailed three 3-pointers for all of his scoring.

Snyder fell to 1-4 in the Braggin' Rights game after winning his first appearance in the border rivalry on December 21, 1999.


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