In Monday's Post Game Wrap-Up, I talked about how Missouri mainly lost the game because they lost to Rayvonte Rice in the last 10 minutes. I said this then...
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.
Senior leadership is a funny thing. In the college era of the one and done we're accustomed to young players coming in and dominating for a year before turning pro. What sometimes gets missed is that those teams, led by young players, rarely win titles. Jabari Parker was a great player for Duke, but it didn't prevent them from getting bounced by Mercer, a team led by senoirs. Andrew Wiggins Kansas team got bounced by Stanford, led by 3 juniors and two seniors. UConn won everything behind the experienced play of Shabazz Napier.
So experience in college means something. You can win a lot of games with youth, when that youth is cream of the crop. You aren't going to win a lot of games when your talent is good, but still improving. And that's where Missouri is. They have a lot of good young players. These players can take this team to new heights if they stick together. When it comes to the experience though, they're still working on that part.
So, I present to you, How Missouri's Youth Got Bested By A Senior, in Three Acts.
Act 1:The Setup
For 30 plus minutes, Missouri had battled. They hadn't always played well, but they played hard. They managed to stay with the Fighting Illini for the full 30 minutes. How would they close?
With 9:28 to go in the 2nd half, Johnathan Williams III rebounded a missed three by Wes Clark, makes a nice spin move and gets a bucket to tie the game at 45. After about 15 seconds of Illinois passing the ball around on offense and looking out of sorts, Coach John Groce took a timeout. This is the play they ran. I call it... Get the ball to our best player and tell him to go get 2.
The best part of the play isn't the design, it's a pretty unsophisticated play design. Handoff/screen at the top, shooters in both corners, double screen after the handoff to keep the D on the strongside occupied. Missouri actually had this well defended until Rice's sick hesitation that forced Wes Clark to jump out to defend a potential kick-out for a 3, allowing the lane to open up for Rice to get to the basket. He converts rather easily because he's 22 (*fun fact: Rice is EXACTLY 14 years younger than me -- hey Bastille Day birthday buddy!*) vs Teki who is 18, and 5 years with a college trainer will make you a touch stronger than the other guy. With more experience, Clark can stay down in the lane longer, maybe forcing Rice to take a short challenged jumpshot over a defender rather than a layup. With more time in the weight room, Teki can body up the driver and make the layup more difficult, or drive him into the baseline rather than the backboard.
Then Mizzou did this
This was my favorite play of the game. First of all, this goes back to the Mike Anderson style of defense, trapping ball screens. Shooting the passing lane, and attacking the rim on a break. After this, Missouri had the momentum and were playing with as high of a level of confidence than we've seen from them yet. My favorite part of the above play is how D'Angelo Allen throws the pass to Williams with a little flair, then walks up the court like... yeah, that just happened. He didn't crash the boards, he knew it was good. Groce smartly calls a timeout.
After the timeout, Mizzou forced Malcolm Hill to turn it over. This was huge now as Missouri had a chance to go up 5. The young Tigers gave it right back to Illinois as Wes Clark travelled on an aggressive move towards the basket. The Illini were met by some very tough defense for about 25 seconds, that's when Montaque Gill-Caesar had a bit of a mental lapse. He was guarding Rice. Maybe he didn't figure Rice was going to be much of a threat. After all...
That was a bad move.
Eh. Sometimes a guy shoots a 30 footer and makes it. I even like how Clark is like: You should go guard that guy! As MGC is standing in the lane.
It was a blow to Mizzou however, as that evened the game. I kind of think this was the biggest shot Rice made. Mizzou was playing with fire on the defensive end, Illinois was struggling to get shots, then Rice shoots from Belleville, and knocks it down.
Act 2:The Battle
The young Tigers answered.
Resilience is fun, especially when its your team showing that resilience. When it comes to things you want to see along the way this season, at the top of the list has to be JW3 becoming a player that does this. Nobody has ever questioned his ability, it was the need to see that switch in his head flip. And considering that in the last 5 games he's suddenly a 16 ppg and 8 rebound kind of player, that's a good sign for things to come.
The next few possessions went for a plus 2 for Illinois (a Starks made jumper), and a missed 3 by Shamburger. At least it was a good 3 point look as the ball had touched Williams hands a few times before being kicked out. The next offensive possession for Illinois was a good one.
Illinois relies on a lot of ball screens and hand offs, and with Missouri's defense, that usually ends with a post guy trying to defense somebody he can't . In this case, you can almost see Rice's eyes light up when he turns the corner to see Jakeenan Gant guarding him. Gant will be able to defend a player like Rice in the future, but young guys have to learn how to defend smaller guys. As athletic as he is, he just needs to learn that he needs to move his feet fast enough to get in position, not just aimlessly swat at the shot when it gets put up. Shot and the foul. Illinois takes a 2 point lead.
Clark was up and down all game, and he's had an up and down start to the season, but its things like this that get me excited about his future. He has fantastic mid-range game. Missouri does a good job here of flattening out the defense, allowing the ball screen set by Gant to be more effective. Clark gets into good position and ties the game at 55.
Sometimes the simplest plays work the best. This was coming off the under 4 timeout, I'm sure Kim just said: Jakeenan, just bust ass to the basket and score the ball. This defensive error is on Illini forward Malcolm Hill, who gets too high and sucked over by what amounts to be non-action from JW3 and Shamburger. But as Gant giveth, he taketh away. On the very next possession, Gant fouled Hill on a 3-point attempt leading to three FT's, of which Hill sank two of them. So after taking the lead, the young team makes another mistake, and a bad one, to give Illinois another chance to tie the game.
After a bit of a back in forth that included a Teki turnover, a missed jumper from Kendrick Nunn, and a JW3 missed shot, we reached the two minute mark tied at 57.
Act 3:The Finish
With about 20 seconds of offense run after the JW3 missed jumper, Illinois didn't seem to be doing enough to get their one guy the ball. So, again, Coach Groce took a smart timeout. He wanted to get Rice the ball. And he did.
Errors made by Mizzou on this possession: 1) JW3 wasn't high enough when the screen was being set to push Rice further away from the basket, and 2) Clark doesn't stay deep enough with Egwu after the switch making the pass all too easy to make. Also, not really "mistakes" as much as where they should be, Allen and Gill-Caesar need a foot in the paint there. Philosophically, this is why I've also never been a fan of switching ball screens, and why I like traps. Switching often allows the offense to set up the offensive matchup they want. We'll cover this a bit later too.
After this, Missouri came down, ran some offense and found JW3 for a 3-point attempt. I don't have a problem with JW3 taking 3's, in fact I like that he wanted the ball, and wanted that shot. That's another good sign. I think, however, they could have gotten a better shot.
The good news is that they came down and Illinois took a really tough shot, forcing a 3 over the top of Williams.
D'Angelo Allen just gets out-muscled by the older strong Rice, just watch how Rice lets the younger Allen slide right past out of position on the block. This kind of reminds me of watching the old guys play at the YMCA. Shorter older players just position the younger guys where they want them, and secure the rebound. As long as they still have the energy that is.
20 seconds later, Illinois quit messing around with other players and gave the ball to Rice.
GOOD DEFENSE (kinda). Some miscommunication on whether they were supposed to switch or not. Clark makes a big play in sliding over the cut off the drive which slows Rice down. That time allowed Deuce Bello enough time to recover and challenge the shot. There was also a great show by Namon Wright which also helped affect the drive. Wes Clark came up with the rebound as well (really, don't understand people that don't like this kid), then attacked down the floor and was fouled by Nunn. This allowed Mizzou the chance, it kept the door open. Anderson was able to sub a more offensive lineup, getting Allen and MGC in for Bello and Wright.
Then Wes Clark stepped up again.
Everytime Rice stepped up to lift Illinois, the young Tigers: Clark, Williams, Gant & Allen all did things that answered. You want to be excited about the future of this program? You have, AT LEAST, four players who are no older than a sophomore who aren't afraid to step up and make a big play. That bodes well for the future. On this play, Mizzou took a page out of the Illinois playbook and ball screened to get a good match up for Clark. Egwu has to respect Clarks speed too much, leaving open the patented Clark mid-range jumper.
The problem is that Rice has the ball last.
If you want to break this down, Mizzou started with the matchup they wanted. The long, lanky and athletically superior Bello lined up in front of Rice. So ball screen, ball screen, and Illinois changes that. JW3 does a good job here, but like Egwu vs. Rice, has to respect the quickness advantage and gives too much space. Shamburger runs at Rice too late. Rice makes a ridiculous move and makes a pretty tough shot. Not an impossible shot, but a tough shot.
In the end, Mizzou's youngsters were out-dueled by a 5th year senior. Learn about it young Tigers. Your time should be soon.