Illinois coach Bruce Weber praised his team's effort.
"It was very impressive. We took care of the ball, and then we guarded. We rebounded well, that was a key. It was definitely a better rebound effort than what it's been."
It was an overall team effort as Illinois continues to show outstanding chemistry on the floor. Sophomore Demetri McCamey was on fire to begin the game, helping the Illini to an early lead. In fact, he had 18 of his 20 points by halftime.
But senior guards Trent Meacham and Chester Frazier were at least as important to the win. Meacham led the team with 23 points, 15 in the second half. He went to the line 9 times and made 8, a sign he is penetrating and forcing the defense to foul him.
Chester scored no points but dished out 8 assists and grabbed 6 rebounds from his point guard spot. More than that, he was the leader on the floor as he consistently broke the Mizzou press and made intelligent decisions in the half court offense. Weber had high praise for him afterward.
"Chester's work for us is pretty impressive. Chester took the ball out, which is not easy, and then he's got to cut through. It was a good effort by the seniors."
Illinois bolted to a big lead in the first half and coasted from there. After a quick 8-2 getaway, they added runs of 10 and 7 points to reach halftime with a 40-22 lead. Weber liked the way his Illini demoralized the Tigers.
"We had the nice run midway through the first half which kind of gave them the knockout punch."
The Tigers actually outscored the Illini in the second half by 2, but they were down 24 with 6 minutes to play before their press finally got some turnovers and quick baskets to close the gap to 16 at the end. Illinois' Mike Davis said Weber wanted them to not get complacent in the second half.
"Coach told us at halftime we had to play two halves. When we came out the second half, we had to play to win and not play not to lose."
Davis and center Mike Tisdale both fought hard against Missouri's talented forwards Leo Lyons and DeMarre Carroll. Davis finished with 13 points and 9 rebounds while Tisdale added 12 points and 8 rebounds. Lyons was tough to stop for Mizzou with 22 points, but the Illini held Carroll to 6 points and one rebound. In his defense, Carroll suffered a sprained ankle that may have slowed him.
"We thought DeMarre Carroll was the key to the game for them on offense, so we shut him down today, luckily, and got the victory," Davis stated.
"You could see how Alex went into a tough situation for the first time. He's gonna learn from it and get better over the course of time. He's got to be patient."
The Illini picked the Tigers apart with their half court offense. Taking advantage of Missouri's aggressive, overplaying style, the Illini found back door cutters against the man defense and open spots in the zone for jumpers. As a result, the Illini shot 56.9% from the field, including 43.8% from three. Illinois dished out 22 assists for their 29 baskets.
In contrast, Mizzou could manage only 37.1% shooting, a tribute to smart defense by the Illini. Only five of their baskets were other than layups. They made their first three pointer with under 5 minutes to play. Weber divulged his strategy afterward.
"This was a good team effort, good team defense. We felt if we stayed not a zone but really compact, they're gonna dribble and drive. They don't have a post guy, which is really good for us."
Some fans stayed home due to inclement weather, and the Illinois band and cheerleaders arrived after the start of the game. But it was still a loud, intense environment. Davis had trouble hearing his teammates at times.
"It's loud on the floor. I remember one time Chester told me to switch, but I didn't hear him. It was really fun out there. It was like an NCAA tournament game. Hopefully, we can make the tournament this year."
Weber hopes that also. This win should help his team's RPI and its confidence going into a rugged Big 10 schedule.
"This was a good win. They're a good team. I hope down the road it helps us. We reach Christmas at 11-1, which is a pretty nice start. Now we face Eastern Michigan, and then we have real tough games at Purdue and Michigan. We can enjoy this for a couple days."