Promising. We'll call it that. There is a reason why me, and Bill also, have largely been positive with our post-game wraps this season. It's easy to see the promise in this team. For the first time this season, they were able to play a nearly full 40 minutes of good, watchable basketball. And I don't mean nearly because there was 1.3 seconds left when the ball left Rayvonte Rice's hand. I say nearly, because let's not pretend that the Tigers played 40 minutes of flawless basketball until Rice decided to end all that with virtually no time on the clock. That's not the case at all.
ALWAYS READ THE STUDY HALL
ALWAYS READ THE STUDY HALL
Early on, Missouri was very sloppy, and doing things that have frustrated us much of the season. Illinois isn't a high pressure style defense, if anything they predicate more on the principle's of the pack-line defense. So turning the ball over 14 times, many of which weren't exactly forced is still a looming problem for this team. They don't value the ball as much as they need to in order to win games against good teams.
Sloppy is a word I feel like I use a lot with this team, my hope is that most of the sloppiness comes from being a young team, coupled with a new coach, in a new system. Without upperclassmen leadership, the combination of a LOT of youth, a new coach and a new system turns this team to mush far too often. There's also very little familiarity. Case in point, when Keith Shamburger went to pass to Wes Clark who was instead cutting the basket from the top of the key. The ball went across the court to be picked up by Kendrick Nunn and taken in for a dunk (oddly enough the official scorer put that TO on Clark, I would disagree). All of these things are what causes this team to have a lack of continuity, and that lack of continuity is one of the reasons why they came up short Saturday afternoon.
Tigers are playing with so much passion right now, answering Illinois shot for shot. This is the team I think many expected to see this year— Rock M Navidad (@rockmnation) December 20, 2014
So in Friday's preview, we listed the 3 keys to the game that Missouri needed to win the game. Let's review a bit.
1) Limit Rayvonte Rice
For 3/4 of the game, Mizzou was doing just that. Keeping Rice in check. The last 1/4 of the game though... Rice took over. It was tied at 45 with 9:04 left when Rice made a layup. Including that basket, Rice accounted for 13 of Illinois final 17 points (the assist on the Nnanna Egwu dunk is included).
Rice finished 7 of 15 from the floor, including 2 of 4 from 3, and 3-3 from the FT line (he also nabbed 7 boards). In the last 10 minutes he was 4 for 5 from the floor with 2 three pointers, 1 giant assist and a huge offensive rebound. If Missouri is somehow able to hold onto the form of the first 3/4 of the game, they win the game. The problem going in was the match between a 5th year senior in Rice (he sat out a year when he transferred from Drake), and the group of freshmen and sophomores that he'd be facing on the Mizzou roster. In the end, experience won. ALL of the metrics we watched ticked up. He had more points and rebounds than his average, his minutes were equal, his Floor% up, his Eff FG % was right in line with his season averages.
That's not limiting Rice.
2) Keep their scoring trends down
Score one for the good guys here. If there was one bright spot it was that the Missouri defense was good all game. Illinois had to work for their points, and were often found taking tough shots in a one on one situation. When you can limit a guard oriented offense to just 7 assists, that's a net positive. We said to keep this game in the mid-60s, and it was a 62-59 final. The Missouri defense kept them in the game. Even to the point where the game winning shot was made over two defenders. That's just a tip-your-cap kind of play.
3) Win the interior
This was pretty much a tossup. As predicted in the preview, the smaller Illini allowed Missouri to move smaller as well. Post didn't play, and Rosburg started each half, but sat the following 15 or so minutes after that. Illinois was able to outrebound Missouri by 1, but Missouri also took 7 less shots thanks to turnovers. Despite a distinct height advantage, Egwu only managed 3 rebounds against the smaller tigers. Even the Free Throws were essentially a push. I'm not sure Missouri did enough to win this category, but they did enough to win the game.
In the end is was the miss on point number 1, Rayvonte Rice, that bit the Tigers. They just didn't do enough vs. Rice, in crunch time, to pull out the win. You can credit Rice for making a great shot, and he did make a great shot. It was the 10 other points he accounted for that hurt more. Still, with all that, Mizzou almost did everything they needed to do to win a game against a good team. Which is much more than we've been able to say to this point. Let's face it, there's a reason why so many people have positive feelings coming after this game. It was the first time this season where we felt like this team was coming together. The fact that it happened in the most highly publicized game of the non-conference schedule will only help that fact that maybe, MAYBE, things are on the right track.
So to sum up, this was the game that we were all waiting to see. The Missouri youngsters, going shot-for-shot against a good Power 5 team, and not giving in. Regardless of the win or not. They didn't give in. And that's progress.
With that said, let's get to our normal wrap-up things by looking at the...
Neither Keith Shamburger or Wes Clark played their best game. Shamburger didn't have a turnover on the stat sheet, he did have a few questionable passes and decisions that almost led, or did lead, to turnovers early. Wes Clark was very sloppy with the ball early, but both players did well when it counted down the stretch. As a team the Tigers had 6 turnovers in the second half, which, for this team is an improvement. Clark struggled early, and probably forced a few bad shots, but one of the things I've always like about him was his grittiness. Taking, and making, that shot to tie the game is a prime example of the kind of player he's capable of being.
WES CLARK BABY! Ties the game at 59 with 17.8 to go. There are so many reasons to like this kids future.— Rock M Navidad (@rockmnation) December 20, 2014
Isabell only played 7 minutes. Quite frankly that's okay with me. I might have liked to see him get to about 10, but his impact is minimal. He was right in the middle of the Shamburger 3-pointer, Technical on Leron Black that jolted Missouri back into the game after an Illinois run.
Easily their best game effort-wise, from start to finish. Is that a start of things to come, or is this just a case of it being easy to get up for a game vs. a rival with 20,000 people watching? We won't find out next game, because I expect them to show up and play hard against Oklahoma State (who's beatable btw), but we will find out against Lipscomb and MUCH of the SEC as those games kick in here pretty soon.
The balance is shifting a bit.
- Keith Shamburger: 32 minutes
- Johnathan Williams: 32 minutes
- Wes Clark: 31 minutes
- Montaque Gill-Caesar: 31 minutes
- D'Angelo Allen: 20 minutes
- Jakeenan Gant: 16 minutes
- Namon Wright: 11 minutes
- Ryan Rosburg: 11 minutes
- Deuce Bello: 9 minutes
- Tramaine Isabell: 7 minutes
- Keanau Post: DNP