(Photo Credit: Ryan Leopando- Arch City Sports)
The Missouri Tigers haven’t had such a great year starting the season 2-3 in their first five games. They’ve failed to produce a statement win and of the games they did win most were by a narrow margin. Sitting at 5-5 the Tigers came into the annual Braggin’ Rights game against rival Illinois looking to earn their first big win of the season and show the Missouri fans that they should be excited about the future of this team. And while they dropped todays contest 62-59 to Illinois, Kim Anderson’s team played arguably its best game of the season.
Coming in as the favorite the Tigers struggled out of the gate missing on their first two buckets and committed a pair of turnovers to put themselves in a 4-0 hole. Though Wes Clark connected on a three-point jumper to give Missouri its first points of the game to avoid early disaster. Clark finished the game with 11 points, five rebounds, and three assists.
Despite trailing for the majority of the first half the Tigers kept pace with the Illini using good ball movement to attack the rim and open up outside shots. Jakeenan Gant’s tip in with under six minutes to play in the first half gave Missouri its first lead of the game at 21-20 triggering Illinois head coach John Groce to call a timeout.
After losing the lead Keith Shamburger registered five straight points to put Missouri back on top 30-29. Just before half Ahmad Starks connected on a three-point jumper to give Illinois the lead heading into the break 32-30.
In the second half Starks caught fire and hit four of his first five shots to extend Illinois lead to 44-39. Needing a big response the Tigers got just that from Johnathan Williams III and Deuce Bello. After Williams III used a nice move to score a layup Bello hit a layup of his own to cut the deficit to 44-41.
Later D’Angelo Allen connected on a deep three-pointer that gave a jolt to the Missouri crowd in the Scottrade Center, which was followed by a steal and layup on the other end to give the Tigers their largest lead of the game 50-47.
After an Illinois timeout a pick and roll allowed Illini big man Nnanna Egwu to get loose and connect on a dunk to give Illinois a 59-57 advantage. Clark was able to connect on a jumper on the other end to tie the game up with just 18 seconds to play.
Coming out of the timeout the Tigers did everything right on defense, but Rayvonte Rice hit a ridiculous three-pointer jumper at the buzzer to give Illinois the 62-59 victory. Rice finished the game with 19 points, seven rebounds, and three assists.
For Missouri it was arguably their best game of the season. Despite losing, the team looked much more comfortable running the offense through the guards and it appears as each player is beginning to understand their role more and more.
Williams III played excellent around the rim on both ends of the floor as he led the Tigers with 15 points and eight rebounds. Allen also had a nice contribution off the bench connecting on three of his four shots for eight points and added five boards as well.
Overall for the Tigers it was an improved shooting performance as they shot 44 percent from the floor, but they still need to hit the long-range ball on a more consistent basis if they are going to take those shots. They shot just 28 percent from long range on the game despite getting a lot of open looks against the smaller Illini defense.
Missouri lacks the go to guy they’ve had in the past from beyond the arc whether it be Jabari Brown, Kim English, or Marcus Denmon. They also lack the solid true point guard in what I expect to be Namon Wright’s role down the line. Clark hasn’t been able to truly lead and run the offense like this team needs him to do.
Clark’s ball handling has been a recurring problem. Missouri committed 14 turnovers on the day and until they can control the ball it will be hard for them to win these close games.
All in all I think there are certainly a number of good things that came out of this game for Missouri and as the season progresses we are seeing more and more of that. Illinois played a solid game all around and today they were just the better team.
With the loss Missouri moves to 5-6 on the season and is next in action on Dec. 30 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City when they take on Oklahoma State.
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