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Missouri holds off late charge, beats No. 6 Illinois 81-78

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Missouri

Dec 12, 2020; Columbia, Missouri, USA; Missouri Tigers guard Dru Smith (12) shoots against Illinois Fighting Illini center Kofi Cockburn (21) during the second half at Mizzou Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri held off a late charge from No. 6 Illinois and overcame 36 points from Fighting Illini star Ayo Dosunmu for an 81-78 victory Saturday night.

Dru Smith had 17 points, Javon Pickett had 14 points and five rebounds and the Tigers held on in the annual “Braggin’ Rights” rivalry game.

Missouri (5-0) led 49-41 at halftime and held on for its third straight win in the series. Illinois (4-2) trailed by 13 with nine minutes left but rallied to tie it before the Tigers closed out the upset.

Dosunmu set a career high in scoring on 13-of-20 shooting, and Kofi Cockburn had 19 points with six rebounds for Illinois. Andre Curbelo added in 14 points off the bench.

Missouri guard Xavier Pinson ended the Tigers’ seven-minute field goal drought on a spinning floater with 51 seconds left to make it 80-76. Cockburn threw down a dunk on the next possession, but that was waved off and he was given a Flagrant 1 foul after the 7-footer clipped Missouri’s Mitchell Smith.

The Tigers ran down the clock before Kobe Brown air-balled a 3-pointer. Dosunmu took the rebound the other way and missed an off-balanced 3 that was grabbed by Brown, who missed two free throws. Dosunmu tried to get off another late heave, but couldn’t release in time.

The teams combined for 52 fouls. That meant plenty of trips to the foul line, where Missouri — which set a NCAA record for most consecutive foul shots made last season — vastly outperformed Illinois, shooting 84% to the Illini’s 61%.

The game was played in Columbia as challenges related to COVID-19 prevented the game from being held in its normal location of the Enterprise Center in St. Louis. Mizzou Arena was chosen as the game site via a coin flip between it and Champaign’s State Farm Center in a streamed event last month.