Thursday Recap: Missouri Wins Braggin' Rights Yet Again

December 23rd, 2011

The "Braggin' Rights" game between Illinois and Missouri is alway an intense affair, with the fans in the stands split by the halfcourt line and both teams understanding what's at stake before they even hit the floor. This season's game was no different, although for a good portion of the first half it seemed as if the undefeated Tigers were on their way to a romp. Bruce Weber's team refused to fold, and once Missouri got out of control Illinois was able to mount their rally. Illinois went on a 17-3 run halfway through the second half with Joseph Bertrand (19 points, 9-9 FG) leading the way to take a 62-61 lead, but it was Missouri's backcourt that made the plays late to win 78-74. 

Phil Pressey led the Tigers with 18 points and five assists, and his layup with 12 seconds remaining sealed the deal as Illinois decided not to foul. Michael Dixon Jr. also scored 18 points and in total four Tigers reached double figures, but they allowed the pace to get a little too fast in the second half. Instead of working the ball around for good shots Missouri took hurried looks, and the "bailouts" allowed Illinois to go down to the other end and string together quality possessions. Bertrand was a big key in that, as he made all nine of his shots while making sound decisions with the basketball.

During that 17-3 run there were also better opportunities for Meyers Leonard, who finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds and five assists on the night. The Illini did a better job of finding and getting Leonard the ball in positions where he could be most effective, and that's something that will have to continue for the Illini to reach their full potential. But Illinois once again lost sight of what sparked their run in the final minutes, which allowed the Tigers to regain the lead and ultimately win. Illinois shot 50% from the field and out-rebounded Missouri 35-30 but those numbers didn't matter as much as their 17 turnovers in the end.

Illinois turned the ball over on 24% of their possessions and made just four of sixteen shots from beyond the arc with Sam Maniscalco and D.J. Richardson combining to make just one of eight (Richardson entered the game having made five threes in each of Illinois' last two games). As for the Tigers, while they averaged more than a point per possession they didn't approach their season average in terms of offensive efficiency (126.2), finishing at a 109.9.

They finished below their season averages in many of the tempo-free categories and their getting out of control at times had something to do with it. But Coach Haith and his players understand what they do best and what needs to be done to improve on Thursday's showing. The last time a Missouri team got off to a 12-0 start was back in 1981-82, and that team won 19 straight and finished 27-4. Could this group of Tigers do the same? They sure can.   

Other Notable Happenings

1. Georgetown takes care of business and hands Memphis their fifth loss of the season.
The rematch of the Maui Invitational meeting between Memphis and #16 Georgetown was supposed to be a tight affair throughout, but things didn't work out that way for Josh Pastner's Tigers. Frankly Memphis was outworked for much of the game, trailing by as many as 20 points in the second half before finally fighting back. Georgetown would go on to win 70-59 with Jason Clark scoring 18 points and Hollis Thompson adding 17 and nine rebounds. Four starters scored in double figures for the Hoyas, and veterans such as Clark, Thompson and Henry Sims underline exactly what Memphis is lacking right now. When things begin to go wrong on the court who's the guy that will hold himself and his teammates accountable?

The talent is definitely there, with Will Barton being one of the best players in the country. But there are also guys who haven't held up their end of the bargain for a team that's now 6-5 on the season. Senior Wesley Witherspoon? Five minutes tonight and eight over the last two games. Tarik Black? Fouled out in 13 nondescript minutes. Things have gotten to the point where Coach Pastner held a team meeting immediately after the game that lasted nearly two hours. Ferrakhon Hall added something from an effort and toughness standpoint when he was on the floor, but if the meetings haven't fully sunk in it's time to use the motivation of the bench to light a fire under guys. Memphis will have the most talent in Conference USA once they enter league play, but if they don't match that with high-level effort they're going to be in more trouble than this group bargained for. 

2. Not only does Texas A&M fall to Rice but they also lost Kourtney Roberson.
Even with an all-conference talent like Arsalan Kazemi to contend with, few people expected Billy Kennedy's Aggies to struggle with a Rice team that entered Thursday's game with three wins over non-Division I opponents to their credit. But that's exactly what happened in College Station as Texas A&M shot just 39% from the field in a 65-58 loss to the Owls. Tamir Jackson scored a team-high 13 points while Kazemi (10 points, 13 rebounds), Ahmad Ibrahim (12 points) and Lucas Kuipers also reached double figures for the Owls, who picked up their first win over a Division I opponent in nearly a month. But the loss may be the least of Texas A&M's concerns with Kourtney Roberson being lost for four-to-six weeks with a fractured left ankle suffered in the first half.

David Lobeau led four Aggies in double figures with 14 points but when two starters (Jordan Green and Keith Davis) go scoreless there's going to be trouble. Khris Middleton and Ray Turner have shown at different stages in the season that they can be primary scorers, which goes without saying for Middleton as he was expected to be. But other than that guys are going to have to step up and be consistent factors on offense. Not everyone can score in double figures; that's not realistic for Texas A&M given their tempo and frankly they don't need everyone to. But they need guys to provide something. That didn't happen against Rice, and the end result was a disappointing defeat. 

3. Long Beach State beats Xavier, and a freshman may be the key in them winning the Big West.
Tu Holloway made his return to the Xavier lineup after a one-game suspension for his role in that ugly brawl with city rival Cincinnati. But that didn't matter much as the Musketeers still had their problems executing on the offensive end of the floor. Where the Musketeers really ran into trouble was on the other end of the floor, as Long Beach State outscored Xavier by 12 (21-9) from beyond the arc in winning 68-58. Six players scored for the 49ers but five finished in double figures, with freshman Michael Caffey scoring 14 off the bench to lead the way. Xavier made just three of fifteen shots from beyond the arc, and the only reason why the margin wasn't any worse was the fact that The Beach shot 15-for-28 from the foul line. 

But back to Caffey, who was a steal for Dan Monson and his staff as he didn't qualify until late (two of his teammates at Corona (CA) Centennial were Gelaun Wheelwright (Weber State) and Dominique Dunning (New Mexico)). If Caffey can continue to progress that will take some weight off the shoulders of senior point guard Casper Ware, who has the responsibilities of running the show as well as scoring, the 49ers will be that much better for it. In fact it can be argued that the absence of such a player was the big reason why Long Beach State couldn't turn their Big West regular season title into an NCAA Tournament bid. Next up for The Beach is Auburn in a Diamond Head Classic semifinal, and it's a game that will have a bigger impact should they lose as opposed to picking up the win. 

Quick Hitters

1. They may have won on Thursday, beating Fairfield 79-71, but Connecticut wasn't at their best after jumping out to a 20-point halftime lead. That's been an issue for the Huskies in a few games this season; once they've figured out that the game's over they've allowed teams to hang around. The Huskies need to change that mindset as they head into Big East play. 

2. Ian Miller and Antwan Space saw their first action of the season for Florida State but it didn't matter as they fell to rival Florida 82-64 in Gainesville. Bradley Beal scored 21 and grabbed six rebounds and all five Gator starters scored in double figures. Florida simply had too many weapons, and the Seminoles don't have a Patric Young either. 

3. Drew Crawford scored 34 points and John Shurna added 18, nine rebounds and six assists but it wasn't enough as Northwestern fell at #21 Creighton 87-79. Doug McDemott scored 27 points and the Bluejays took advantage of Crawford leaving the game early in the second half with his fourth foul. That's another good win for Creighton ,and a missed opportunity for an improved Northwestern. 

4. A sophomore who's played well of late but remains under the radar is UTEP's Mike Perez, who scored a career-high 25 points in the Miners' 61-48 win over Clemson at the Diamond Head Classic. Perez has scored at least 17 points in five of UTEP's last six games and has emerged as a go-to option that Tim Floyd and his staff didn't expect to have before the season began. 

5. The biggest threat to Belmont in the Atlantic Sun is likely Mercer, and the Bears picked up a 65-59 win at Georgia Tech. Monty Brown scored 13 points off the bench and Bud Thomas added 12 points, seven rebounds and three steals for the Bears, who lost a Belmont by just four earlier this month. Bob Hoffman's got a contender on his hands, and with Belmont being their regular season finale you never know what could be on the line.

6. Charleston did a good job of bouncing back from their tough loss at Louisville, winning 77-70 at Big South contender Coastal Carolina. Andrew Lawrence led the way with 18 points and seven assists while Matt Sundberg added 17 off the bench for the Cougars, who are now 10-2 on the season. 

7. Congratulations are in order for Bob Huggins, who won his 700th game as a head coach on Thursday night. West Virginia needed a Gary Browne three-pointer to push Missouri State to overtime in Las Vegas, and they went on to win 70-68. Next up for WVU is #7 Baylor. 

8. And Butler did what they had to do to get a split of their two games in beating Stanford 71-66 at Maples Pavilion. Ronald Nored scored 18 points and dished out five assists while Jackson Aldridge added 15 off the bench.  

Three Notable Performances

1. F Chris Gaston (Fordham)
35 points (13-17 FG) and 15 rebounds in the Rams' 81-70 win over Texas State.

2. F Arnett Moultrie (Mississippi State)
24 points (8-11 FG), 14 rebounds and four assists in the Bulldogs' 82-67 win over Northwestern State.

3. F/C Brennan Cougill (Green Bay)
19 points, 19 rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks in the Phoenix's 63-61 win over Idaho.