ST. LOUIS — What started as a promising afternoon for Illinois fans left the Illini faithful with a sour taste in their mouths.
Illinois (8-4) lost its second Braggin’ Rights contest in as many years as the Illini fell to Missouri (7-4) on Saturday afternoon at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis, 63-56.
“[Missouri] was better tonight,” said Illinois head coach Brad Underwood following his team’s loss. “I look at it as 40 minutes in a long season.”
In desperate need of a quality non-conference win, Illinois looked the part in the first half, but the second period featured a completely different team. Putting together 40 consistent minutes has been the issue all year. With just one non-conference contest remaining on the season, the Illini currently sit at 8-4 and will have their work cut out for them in the Big Ten if they still have tournament aspirations.
“We’re going to have plenty of opportunities,” Underwood said. “We have to do some things better, but we can correct some of that in practice.”
It was a back-and-forth start in St. Louis that featured physicality and two stout defenses. Ayo Dosunmu got going early with five points and four rebounds in the first five minutes, and carried much of the load through the first 20 minutes for Illinois. Outside of Dosunmu, only three other Illini got in the scoring column and none had more than five points. Underwood went to zone a few times to give Missouri a different look, but if anything the Tigers looked more comfortable against Illinois’ 2-3. Even with Jeremiah Tilmon sidelined for much of the first half due to foul trouble, the Illini still couldn’t exploit their size advantage down low. Neither team led by more than six points with the Tigers taking a 26-23 lead into the half.
“For some of their players, it’s personal,” Underwood said. “They played that way. We didn’t.”
The Tigers were the aggressor out of the break with a quick 9-3 run to extend their lead to nine. Illinois on the other hand... well, the Illini struggled to get much of anything going. Offensively and defensively, they were frustratingly undisciplined. They forced shots, allowed smaller guards to get to the rim on putbacks on multiple occasions, left shooters open. On six straight possessions midway through the second half they turned the ball over. Outplayed, outhustled, however you want to put it, Missouri dominated Illinois in almost all aspects in the second half, but the biggest was second chance points where the Tigers owned a 16-4 advantage. Illinois would cut the deficit to five, but ultimately fell, 63-56.
MOMENTS THAT MATTER
- With 11 minutes to go in the first half, Missouri’s Jeremiah Tilmon picked up his second personal foul, forcing him to watch the remainder of the period from the bench. The Illini weren’t able to capitalize.
- Illinois found itself in the bonus with over 13 and a half minutes to go and made the most of it going 16-of-19 from the line in the second half. Unfortunately, that’s the only offense Illinois could manufacture.
TWEET OF THE GAME
I LOVE when a bad Northwestern football team and a bad Missouri basketball team care WAY more about the game and are WAY better prepared for it than Illinois when they play.— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) December 21, 2019
The last time a team won only one game in a row in this series: 1981. Since then, streaks of 8, 4, 2, 3, 9, 4, and 5. Missouri won last year, looking to win two in a row here.— Robert (@ALionEye) December 21, 2019
I hope I didn't jinx them. pic.twitter.com/Vsx7JXo878
You jinxed ‘em, Robert!
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
The Illini get eight days off until their final game of the decade — a non-conference matchup against North Carolina A&T (3-9).
Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. CT on Dec. 29 at State Farm Center in Champaign and will be broadcast on ESPNU.