The annual matchup at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis lived up to its hype. After what turned into a recruiting soap opera full of love and heartache, the arrival of two new coaches, and a couple of top tier recruiting classes, we finally got the night we were all waiting for.
A picturesque first half ended with a couple of Trent Frazier trey balls and the Illini all over the Tigers, 42-22. The defensive intensity seemed too much for Missouri who committed 16 turnovers.
Cuonzo Martin and his team were not going down without a fight however. HIs team climbed back to cut the 20-point lead to just four. Trent Frazier sank a couple of free throws to seal it, but the Tigers certainly made things interesting.
· Hot first half: Underwood & Co. jumped all over their border-state rivals. The Illini cracked open a double-digit lead that increased all the way to 20 just before the first half buzzer sounded.
· Defensive Pressure: If this team has established any identity thus far, it is that they will get up in your face and guard. Mizzou ended with 21 turnovers, 16 of which came in the first half.
· Turning Defense into Offense: Illinois didn’t just settle for forcing turnovers, they capitalized on those possessions and scored 25 points off turnovers.
· Ball Security: The Illini turned the ball over just 10 times on the night, the second-fewest times this season.
· Trent. Frazier.: Ice in his veins. The kid wants the ball in his hand on the last possession when it seem like no one else does. The freshman hit two clutch three’s to close the first half and finished 10-11 from the line for the game.
· Mark Smith Hot Start: Smith put in a layup, grabbed a steal, and then hit one from behind the arc all within 30 seconds. He sparked the Illini run with plays on both ends of the floor.
· Leron Black: Arguably the story of the night was Junior Leron Black. After zero points in the Braggin’ Rights game last season, he poured in 20 this year to go along with seven rebounds, and got a fiancé. Congrats to the young couple!
· Free Throw Shooting: This game could’ve been put away much, much earlier had it not been for some poor shooting from the charity stripe. The Illini finished 18-27 from the line for a disappointing 66.7 percent.
· Kipper Nichols & Aaron Jordan were virtually nonexistent: Jordan has played an instrumental role for Brad Underwood’s team so far. He’s the second leading scorer for the Illini, but didn’t have a field goal on the night. Nichols split his only attempts, resulting in a layup in the first half. They combined 1-3 FGs, 1-2 FTs, five rebounds, and three points.
· Smith & Lucas TOs: The pair accounted for six of the 10 turnovers. Smith forced a couple things in the first half, and Te’Jon could never really find his groove after getting in foul trouble.
· Lucas Ineffective on O: The sophomore point guard finished with a fairly lousy stat line for the night. Just one rebound, two assists, three turnovers, a missed field goal, and 0-2 from the free throw line.
· The Illini continue to be unable put two solid halves together. We’re used to seeing Illinois struggle out of the gate, crawl back into the game in the second half, and then choke down the finish. We got the exact opposite last night. The Illini came out firing on all cylinders for a near perfect first half, slowly let the Tigers inch their way back into the contest, but a pair of clutch free throws from Frazier sealed it late.
The Illini host Dan Majerle and Grand Canyon next Saturday at 3 p.m.