The team whose motto is "the fastest 40 minutes in basketball" delivered a nine-second knockout punch to finish off a 75-64 victory over one of its fiercest rivals.
Clinging to a one-point lead after Illinois guard D.J. Richardson's 3-pointer with 43 seconds remaining in Wednesday night's game, Missouri launched a counterattack sparked by a Marcus Denmon outlet pass to a streaking Laurence Bowers. As Bowers went up for the layup, Illinois' Mike Tisdale made the key blunder of the game-clinching sequence by pushing the Missouri wing in the back just hard enough to draw an intentional foul.
• Bowers sank the layup and two free throws with 40.2 seconds to play to put Missouri up 66-61.
• English then inbounded the ball to Denmon for an uncontested layup 1.2 seconds later to increase the lead to seven.
• A Bruce Weber technical foul with 31 seconds remaining sent Denmon to the foul line for two more free throws, making the score 70-61 and draining all suspense from the rest of the game.
Many Illinois fans are livid that Tisdale's push was ruled an intentional foul, but their anger would be better directed at the Illinois big man rather than the referee who made the call.
Even though Tisdale only grazed Bowers, he made no attempt to make a play on the ball. Furthermore, a push in the back when a player is going up for a layup is a scenario that can easily lead to injury, so referees have little choice but to make that call no matter what juncture of the game.
The come-from-behind victory validates Missouri as a legitimate threat to Kansas in the Big 12. Point guard Phil Pressey was out and guard Kim English strained an Achilles tendon in warmups, yet the Tigers improved to 11-1 and kept up their reputation for heart-stopping finishes this season.
It probably won't be the last time Missouri goes all 12 rounds with a marquee opponent, but it will surely go down as the Tigers' most sudden knockout blow.