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Study Hall: Illinois 70, Mizzou 64

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Mizzou may have discovered its Plan B, but it took a bitter rivalry loss to find it.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Missouri Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

You never get to skip a lesson. College basketball is too unforgiving, and the season is too long. If there’s something you’ve still got to learn, you’re going to be forced to learn it.

A couple of games ago, as the cakey part of Missouri’s non-conference schedule was wrapping up, I was growing a bit uneasy. It had been too long since Mizzou had shot poorly from long-range; the Tigers hadn’t been forced to move to Plan B in a while. It was going to catch up to them.

On local radio this week, I said that I hoped Missouri would shoot very poorly from 3-point range against UNF, easily the worst team left on the schedule, just so the Tigers would get one more chance to practice Plan B before the real games begin again.

When you’re taking upwards of 25 threes per game, and you’re in the top 50 in the ratio of 3-point attempts to FG attempts, you’re vulnerable to the whims of the rim. Sometimes you’ll shoot 50 percent, and you’ll be unstoppable. Sometimes you’ll shoot far worse, and that alone might make you dead in the water.

It’s only been a month since Mizzou shot a combined 7-for-47 (15 percent) on threes against Utah and Emporia State, losing big in Salt Lake City and damn near figuring out a way to lose to a D2 school. When you’re hitching your ride to the 3-point wagon, you’re going to fall off a cliff a few times.

I didn’t get my wish, of course. Mizzou shot 40 percent from long range against UNF, then saved itself against SFA by shooting 50 percent against SFA. There was a dud coming. And it came in a rivalry game.

It’s far too simple to say that 3-point shooting prevented Missouri from ending its Braggin’ Rights losing streak. Plenty of other issues arose in this one. But when Mizzou began to overcome those other issues, 3-point shooting prevented a comeback.

Team Stats

  • Mizzou 3-point shooting (vs. Utah, Emporia State, and Illinois): 12-for-74 (16 percent)
  • Mizzou 3-point shooting (vs. everybody else): 111-for-250 (44 percent)

Even when you’re good at the long ball, it’s volatile and cranky. You have to know where you’re going to get your points when the threes aren’t going in. You also have to maybe take fewer of them in certain circumstances. But in the three dud 3-pointer gams Mizzou has suffered, the Tigers have still taken 25 per game, just as they have in the 10 games in which the 3s fell.

Some of that comes from circumstance, obviously — Mizzou almost had to take 3s against Utah and Illinois because of the deficit involved. But at the same time, they didn’t. They shot 17 3-pointers in the second half last night, made only three of them, and still cut a 20-point deficit to four. They had plenty of time to ride Plan B to a win.

In this case, Plan B was “have your guards attack the rim,” and it worked well. In the second half, Kassius Robertson and Blake Harris combined for 30 points on 11-for-21 shooting (8-for-11 on 2s, 3-for-10 on 3s, and 5-for-6 on FTs). There was no full-team ball distribution, and there was no dumping it to the big man (Jeremiah Tilmon and Jontay Porter were 1-for-4 in the second half), and Robertson and Harris weren’t even pretending to be point guards (combined second-half assists: 1). They just hurtled themselves toward the rim, and they almost pulled off a win with it. But the rest of the team went 0-for-7 on 3s and attempted just three 2-pointers.

Other notes:

  • First-Half BCI: Illinois 3.50, Mizzou 0.38. Illinois had eight steals to Mizzou’s three assists. Mizzou has played West Virginia, St. John’s, and SFA and still managed to seem confused and cowed by Illinois’ ball pressure. The Illini are a good pressure team, but that was disappointing. The whole point of getting experience against teams that are good at things is that you become more accustomed to figuring out how to deal with it. Missouri looked like it hadn’t seen defensive pressure all year.
  • But hey, the rebounding went better than I expected! Illinois is good at ball pressure and offensive rebounding, and Mizzou negated the latter of those. So that’s something. Rebounding nearly allowed Mizzou to come back despite woeful shooting and even more woeful ball-handling.

Player Stats

  • Poor Jordan Barnett was a one-man band in the first half. He had 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting, and the rest of the team had eight points on 3-for-15. His work was the only reason Mizzou could even think about a second-half comeback, and then he mostly disappeared in the second half as the comeback began. Tired legs probably didn’t help — he was only off the court for seconds.
  • Part of the reason he couldn’t leave the court: Mizzou had no bench.
  • Jeremiah Tilmon was quite solid in his first Braggin’ Rights affair. He obviously wasn’t a focal point of the offense — ball pressure and the insistence on taking 3 after 3 after 3 prevented that — but seven points, seven rebounds (four offensive), two steals, and two blocks will always be a decent line.
  • Even with Harris’ solid second-half work, Mizzou point guards (Harris, Terrence Phillips, Jordan Geist) combined for minus-6.4 adjusted game-score points. In a six-point loss. Guh. Phillips and Geist were truly awful: 22 minutes, 0 points (0-3 FG), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 7 turnovers, 6 fouls. They actively took points out of the box score.
  • This was extremely disappointing considering how useful that duo was last year in Braggin' Rights. While the team struggled, and while Kim Anderson left Cullen VanLeer on the court to commit seppuku (okay, that was mean), Phillips and Geist combined for 26 points on 18 shots, plus six rebounds. They were this year's Robertson and Harris. And last night, they were the ones with the swords in their stomach.
  • When Jontay Porter looks like a freshman, he looks like a freshman.

Obviously it’s a small-sample thing, but “Jordan Geist: 80% turnover” kinda summarizes things pretty well. Only Phillips’ stats looked somewhat like a point guard’s, but he also had three turnovers and fouled out in 15 minutes.


You always learn the lessons you have to learn, even when they come at inopportune times. Missouri learned that it can use Robertson and Harris to attack the rim when the long ball isn’t falling, and maybe that ends up being a good thing. But they’ll have to wait another 52 weeks to try to end the Braggin’ Rights losing streak, and hopefully that bitter taste keeps the effort level high over their nearly two-week break (next game: Jan. 3).