The Illini once again made the trip to St. Louis for the annual Braggin' Rights game against Missouri. This year was supposed to be a little bit easier of a win though as Mizzou entered the game with a 5-5 record. The game is always an exciting one, but this year it was even better. Adding to the excitement of the game was the Illini's sick "Flyin' Illini" throwback uniforms. I liked them so much that I believe they should wear them for every home game.
The game got off to a bit of a slow start--at the under 16 media timeout Illinois led just 10-7. From that point on it was completely back and forth. Ahmad Starks made a huge three to put the Illini up two at the half, 32-30. To begin the half Nnanna Egwu, who had two fouls in the first half, picked up two fouls (one was a bogus call) and had to sit down for a few minutes. I thought he did a good job of not getting that fifth foul.
After Egwu went out, Starks took over for a couple of minutes. He hit a couple of jumpers and the Illini were able to go up six points before Mizzou called a timeout with 12:45 left. Missouri went on a run and went up three before a Rayvonte Rice and-one put Illinois up two with 4 minutes to go. Rayvonte then made a nice pass to Egwu who slammed a dunk in to put the Illini up 59-57. Wes Clark shot over the outstretched arms of Egwu to tie the game at 59. Rayvonte came down the court and dribbled around before taking a step back three at the buzzer. Swissh. And so the Illini won 62-59. Rice's teammates mobbed him and Michael Finke's pants came off:
And yes my pants did come off when rushing the floor and no I have no idea how it happened lol— Michael Finke (@Finke_Michael) December 20, 2014
Here are three things we learned from the game:
1. Rayvonte Rice is the MAN
If you didn't already know Ray further proved it today. With the shot clock winding down he was the one who wanted to have the ball in his hands. He was the key reason we scored some late baskets. With the defense focused on him he made an excellent feed to Nnanna Egwu who stuffed in a dunk. I would like to see more of that.
This year I think he'll be even better in the B1G. His improved three point shot has made it almost impossible to stop him. And unlike last year he has other options to dish the ball off to if teams double team him. If he continues to play like he has, he gives us a shot to win every game we play in.
2. Braggin' Rights will always be close
Both teams played their hearts out. Mizzou put up a much better fight than was expected. Even in 2004-05, for instance, we only won by six points. It's an emotional game where both teams are competing at their highest level. And really I don't think we have another rivalry like it. Yeah we have some trophy games in football but everyone has those.
For example, Leron Black elbowing that Mizzou guy after the play. It was unnecessary but he is a freshman and his emotions were running high. And it's not like things like that haven't happened before. Remember back a couple of years ago when a Mizzou player literally held onto Sam McLaurin's leg?
Speaking off Sam McLaurin it was really cool to see all the former players tweeting about the game today. Once again, it goes to show how big of a rivalry this is.
3. Aaron Cosby doesn't have to score to be effective
Aaron Cosby had two points today. However, I think he had a very good game and has redeemed himself, at least with me. He had seven rebounds-many of them key rebounds in the second half. When the Illini needed stops it also seemed Cosby was getting the long rebounds, especially on 50/50 balls. This was huge to get a few extra offensive possessions. I'm hoping he is able to embrace his role, like Jon Ekey and Joe Bertrand did last year, and be efficient on the offensive end. This will give the team a very important extra boost.
Looking ahead, the Illini face Kennesaw State at SFC center before they start B1G conference play. Thankfully, Illinois opens on the road against Michigan, who lost once again today. Hopefully they can win these next two and regain confidence for the rest of B1G play.
What did you guys think of the big win today?