“Tracy was a warrior tonight,’’ said Rice, who finished with 14 points for Illinois. “He played great. He made big plays. He scored when he needed to score.’’
His contributions were not limited to his play on the court.
“I don’t think it’s a particular play that stands out,’’ said Illinois coach John Groce. “What stands out to me is his disposition in huddles. He was so locked in and very vocal. He wanted to talk in a couple of the huddles and we let him. He has made strides in vocal leadership. He always been a tough dude, but in terms of being more vocal, he has grabbed on to it.’’
Abrams also grabbed onto the opportunity to make the play at the end of the game with Illinois trailing 64-63 after a 3-pointer by Missouri’s Jabari Brown.
The final offensive play for Illinois was originally designed for Rice, but as he drove to the basket, the junior guard from Centennial lost control of the ball.
After a little scramble, Abrams found himself with the ball at the top of the key with just under 10 seconds remaining. He had no doubt what he needed to do in that situation.
“I was thinking be aggressive,’’ he said.
Abrams was fouled on the drive and went to the line for two free throws. He calmly made both shots, giving the Illini a 1-point lead.
“I was very confident in that situation,’’ he said. “We shoot free throws every day in practice, so it was about repetition and having confidence in my shot.’’
Missouri, which fell to 10-1 with the loss, had one final shot but Tony Criswell’s 35-foot shot at the buzzer came up short. The Tigers wanted to get the ball into the hands of Jordan Clarkson, who had a game-high 25 points, but Clarkson couldn’t handle the inbounds pass.