After a somewhat disappointing 8-5 start to the season, the Illini took to St. Louis for what is one of the best rivalries in college basketball: The Bud Light Braggin’ Rights Game.
Unlike in the previous few years, the atmosphere in St. Louis was pretty incredible. Hundreds of Illini and Mizzou fans gathered at Ballpark Village to begin the festivities hours before game time, and after several years of seeming incompetency from both teams, it appeared there was hope that the rivalry was renewed. Illinois just hired a very successful coach and had an exciting recruiting class. Mizzou got their own new head coach who was able to spurn the Illini by stealing away big man Jeremiah Tilmon of East St. Louis. On top of that, Cuonzo Martin managed to get Michael Porter, Jr. — although he was injured and unable to play in the game.
Braggin’ Rights was back, baby.
After Tilmon scored the opening basket for the Tigers, it seemed only right that this would be a fun game. Illinois had a solid scoring attack, with 22 points from up-and-coming freshman Trent Frazier, 20 from Leron Black, and another 11 from Mark Smith. Michael Finke had 10 of his own and Illinois shot 42.9% from beyond the arc.
Mizzou, on the other hand, struggled from beyond the arc. Kassius Robert was 3-of-12 and Jordan Barnett was 2-of-6. Everyone else went 0-for. Despite the hype around Tilmon, he only managed seven points. Robertson carried the team with 22, and Barnett added 19 of his own. Perhaps Mizzou’s 18% shooting from long range is what helped Illinois stick out the 70-64 victory for the fifth Braggin’ Rights win in a row.
Where does this put the Illini and Tigers for next year? We know Leron Black will likely not be on the Illini, and Mark Smith has departed from the program to explore other opportunities. (Will he sign with Mizzou? I wouldn’t be surprised) Michael Porter Jr. has yet to decide if he will enter the NBA draft. Either way, both programs have some improvements to work on for next season. Illinois finally got a presence inside to protect the rim in Samba Kane, and Alan Griffin and Ayo Dosunmu should more than make up for the production of Smith and Mark Alstork.
One thing is for sure: after the atmosphere at the Scottrade Center this year, I think it’s safe to say the rivalry has rekindled.