Illinois 75, Missouri 66
ST. LOUIS - John Groce's record at Illinois has a lot of flaws: overall (86-63), Big Ten (29-43) and NCAA Tournament (only one appearance).
But the Illini coach certainly has bragging rights over Missouri.
The Illini (10-3) never trailed Wednesday to claim its fourth straight win over the Tigers (5-6) in the nonconference rivalry series -- and claim its sixth straight victory since a Nov. 25 loss to Florida State. Groce is now 4-1 against Missouri and 3-0 against Tigers coach Kim Anderson.
Illini senior wing Malcolm Hill scored a game-high 21 points (6-for-12 FG) to improve to 4-0 in Braggin' Rights games.
Maverick Morgan (19 points and 11 rebounds) continued his recent tear, earning his second straight double-double and third of his career.
While the Missouri never led, it never trailed by more than 12 points and kept within striking distance for most of the 40 minutes. The Illini helped by committing 15 turnovers to Missouri's eight. But Illinois out-shot the Tigers 49 percent to 36 percent and out-rebounded the Tigers 38 to 29.
What it means
Just like the previous two seasons, Illinois should have put away Mizzou earlier. But the Illini escaped St. Louis with another win and escaped the nonconference with a 10-3 record -- and a solid resume. They still have a lot of work to do, and they certainly don't pass the eye test of a certain NCAA Tournament team. But with a front-loaded Big Ten schedule, Illinois will have plenty of opportunities to show what it is -- or what it is not.
What went right
Post touches. For the second straight game, Illinois made a concerted effort to get post touches, and for the second straight game, it was extremely efficient.
Morgan has strung together three great games. He has 46 points and 28 rebounds during his last three games (15.3 points, 9.3 rebounds). Morgan said after the UIC game that it's about "mindset" for him. When he's aggressive and confident, he's one of the team's best players and one of the better offensive big men in the Big Ten.
Thorne Jr. also is gaining a rhythm and is so dangerous on the low block. He is now shooting 69.8 percent (30-for-43) during the last 10 games.
The Orange Mamba is a killer, especially in the game closest to his Belleville home. Hill has 52 points during the last three Braggin' Rights games. He's so savvy and just an elite bucket-getter.
What went wrong
Turnovers. The Illini continue to be careless with the basketball, a surprise given the Illini finished in the top-12 in the country the past two seasons in turnover percentage. The Illini currently are in the bottom third of 351 Division-I teams. It allows teams like Missouri to hang around. Good teams will beat Illinois if they continue to give up possessions at such a high rate.
Free throws. Illinois shot 5-for-11 against BYU, and it nearly cost them a game. The Illini struggled again from the charity stripe (20-for-30).
Fouling. The referees called a way-too-tight game and made some really questionable calls. But Illinois still struggles to defend without fouling and allows the defense too many opportunities to flop for offensive fouls. Two of the Illini's three best players were basically non-factors. Tracy Abrams (three points, three turnovers) fouled out with five fouls in 13 minutes. Leron Black is reverting back to freshman year Leron when he couldn't stay on the court due to foul trouble.
Mizzou's epic streak in the cheerleader lift continued. The Illini must improve recruiting there.
Illinois has six days off before starting Big Ten play on the road at Maryland . The Terrapins (12-1) lost four of their top five players from last season's Sweet Sixteen team, but Mark Turgeon again has a talented team. Junior point guard Melo Trimble unsurprisingly paces the Terps and is once again playing like an All-Big Ten player, averaging 17.9 points per game. He is surrounded by a young but talented group, including 6-foot-7 freshman forward Justin Jackson (10.8 points, 6.0 rebounds) and 5-foot-10 freshman point guard Anthony Cowan (10.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists). The Terps one loss came to Pittsburgh and have won three one-point games over Georgetown, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. KenPom.com projects a 71-67 Maryland home win.