ST. LOUIS — Leron Black came up a double winner on Saturday.
He scored 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds to help Illinois to a 70-64 win over Missouri in the 37th annual pre-Christmas showdown.
Black capped off the strong performance by proposing to his longtime girlfriend Sheila Segura at courtside minutes after the contest. Segura happily accepted.
Trent Frazier came off the bench to score a career-high 22 points for the Illini (9-5), who won their fifth successive game in the series.
Kassius Robertson paced the Tigers (10-3) with 22 points. Jordan Barnett added 19 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
“It felt great to get the win, but it felt even better to get a yes from the person I want to spend the rest of my life with,” Black said. “Obviously, this is a day I will never forget.”
Black decided to pop the question because the parents of both families were together and in town for the game.
“It was the right time,” Black said.
Black’s proposal came as a surprise to Illinois coach Brad Underwood, who surmised that Black kept it quiet in case Segura said no.
“That would have been embarrassing, wouldn’t it?” Underwood joked.
Black scored 13 points in the first half as the Illini used runs of 9-0 and 10-0 to bolt to a 20-point lead. Frazier capped off the near-perfect 20 minutes with a pair of 3-pointers in the final 57 seconds for a 42-22 cushion.
“We threw the first punch and got them on their heels with our defense,” Underwood said.
Missouri, which had a five-game winning streak snapped, climbed to within 66-62 in the final minute before Frazier hit two free throws with six seconds left to seal the victory.
“Trent was huge, he played like a veteran,” Underwood said.
The 6-foot-1 Frazier has scored 71 points over his last four games and has provided energy at both ends of the court.
“We look for him and we know he can make the plays,” Black said.
Mark Smith added 11 points for Illinois, which won its first six games before losing five of its next seven, and Michael Finke scored 10.
Missouri missed 10 of its first 12 shots and committed turnovers on 14 of its first 29 possessions over the initial 16-plus minutes
“I thought they set the tone early the first half,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “We dug ourselves a hole; it was a tough one to get out of.”
Missouri missed 22 of 27 3-point attempts,
“For some reason we didn’t come out with the energy we did in the second half,” Robertson said. “Why, I can’t tell you. But we could never fix it.”
Illinois is 25-12 in series games played in St. Louis.
Missouri won the traditional Statue of Liberty cheerleader battle during a first-half time out. Three male-female duos from each school compete to see which can hold its partner aloft for the longest time.
Sophomore Zoe Montgomery and junior Christian Gentile were the last pair standing for the Tigers.
“It was crazy just to win the whole thing,” Montgomery said.
THE THRILL IS BACK
A sellout crowd of 21,289 witnessed the 37th edition of the annual pre-Christmas rivalry game on Saturday. A series-low 12,409 fans saw last year’s contest.
Illinois has held a second-half lead in all five of its losses this season. The Illini have had the ball and been either tied or held a lead in the final minute in three of those setbacks.
Illinois: The Illini grab some much-needed momentum heading into Big Ten Conference play. They dropped a 74-69 decision to New Mexico State on Dec. 16 and had lost five of their previous seven games heading into play on Saturday.
Missouri: The Tigers will look to get back on the winning track as they open Southeastern Conference play at the start of the New Year. They won five of their first six games.
Illinois: Will host Grand Canyon on Saturday before opening Big Ten Conference play at Minnesota (Jan. 3) and at Michigan (Jan. 6)
Missouri: Begins Southeastern Conference play at South Carolina on Jan. 3