Unbeaten run ends, but not without a fight

Unbeaten run ends, but not without a fight

ST. LOUIS — With about 12 minutes to play in No. 12 Missouri’s 82-73 win against No. 10 Illinois, Tigers big man Alex Oriakhi and Illinois point guard Tracy Abrams battled for a rebound.

Abrams won. And before he began dribbling upcourt, he delivered a menacing stare directly at Oriakhi.

Abrams goes 6-foot-1, 185 pounds. Oriakhi (13 points, game-high 14 rebounds) is a tad bigger (6-9, 255).

Illinois might not win all its games. And John Groce’s Illini aren’t going to light up the nets from the outside like they did early in the season.

But this much was clear in front of a raucous 22,139 fans at the Scottrade Center: They’ll battle.

“My guys showed me something tonight. They showed me some fight and played with great passion, and I’m really proud of them for that,” Groce said.

It’ll take more than grit to survive in the rough-and-tumble Big Ten, which begins after the calendar flips to 2013.

The Illini (12-1), who entered the game making a nation-best 10 three-pointers per game, made eight against the Tigers (10-1) on 32 tries.

They were outrebounded by the bigger Missouri frontcourt 58-35, gave up 44 points in the paint (Laurence Bowers was a beast) and lost for the fourth straight time in the annual rivalry game.

Through all that, Illinois, which got a team-high 23 points from Brandon Paul (eight rebounds, five assists), pulled to within 72-70 on a three-pointer by local boy Tyler Griffey (14 points) with 2:13 remaining.

“Hats off to Mizzou; they came to play. They executed better than us,” Griffey said. “I’m happy with the way our team played. Our guys, we battled. It’s an unbelievable environment.”

Joseph Bertrand added 13 points and Nnanna Egwu recorded career highs with 12 points and nine rebounds as a Groce-coached team lost for the third time in 25 games.

“We fought, we swung, we competed,” Groce said. “We don’t allow one game to define us. I know it’s an important game. It’s a rivalry game, and we have respect for that. We’re going to play 35-plus games. Our deal is our body of work between Oct. 12 and April 1. We want to continue to get better.”


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SwifferFan wrote on December 23, 2012 at 5:12 am

A well fought game, played by two teams determined to win.  It was a pleasure to watch, although frustrating because the balls failed to drop early in the game and because of some unwise shot selections.  As a fan, however, I continue to be excited and optimistic about the Groce era, realizing that there will be tough times ahead this season.  Good game, Illini.  The score really doesn't reveal how close the game was most of the night.  Pull it all together (i.e., take better shots, rebound aggressively, trust the system)  and the Illini will do well through the conference games.

Amen wrote on December 23, 2012 at 6:12 am

Paul and Abrams would do well to study Pressys style of play.  He was finding the open man all night. Helping your teammates  succeed and get better will inevitably result in better shot selection and success for the guard play.

JimOATSfan wrote on December 23, 2012 at 7:12 am

This was a game the Illini could have easily won, had they hit a normal amount of shots. The three starting guards just had off-nights shooting the ball, even though Paul made it up at the free throw line.

Really the front court played great and were hitting clutch shots and neutralized the Tigers bigs just enough to make the game winnable.  How Bowers could drag down Egwu and then grab his ankle in the same play, without getting thrown out of the game...probably a momentum changer.

If Egwu continues to get better each game (seems to be the trend) then we stand an excellent chance in the year-end tourney's.

I would also give the Illini an "A" for effort and another "A" for coaching. Proud of their play for the entire game. Go Illini!


trueillinifan wrote on December 23, 2012 at 8:12 am
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I went to the game. The glaring weakness that Mizzou attacked with a vengamce was rebounding.

I look at the bench and saw these bigger than anyone elses shoulders at the end of the bench.

We complaind about Weber not developing players and having a doghouse.  Why has Ibby not been developed?

I brought this up to my friends who said he cant shoot. I said we have enough shooters and not enough rebounders. Rememer Ervin Small? remember George Montgomery? We obviously needed a wide strong body in there last Night. What does he weigh---245?

Coach Groce. Teach Ibby how to create space and block out in the paint and we might do well in the Big Ten. That is five additional big man fouls that are being wasted at the end of the bench. BTW People will say Ibby cant jump or run--neither could Ervin or George but look at their rebounding stats. Look at the importance they had for their teams. How many games are left before the NCAA tournament? Better start now.

Deon Thomas would have made one great big man coach.  


Nanu--good job with the boards but you need help. Get Ibbys head up and tell him wha to work on.

smartines wrote on December 23, 2012 at 9:12 am

I think the NBA three point line threw them off a bit.  They took a lot of NBA threes and it looked like they were stepping up to it thinking it was the college line.  Mizzou's defense also had a lot to do with it also.  Shot selection was bad overall and DJ was really really off.  He should had been on the bench way more than he was.  

JDG613 wrote on December 23, 2012 at 2:12 pm

I agree completely with Amen's post.  As hard as we played, and as much effort as we obviously put in, it was incredibly frustrating to watch the Missouri guard put the ball in his teammates' hands where they could score easily, then turn around and watch the Illini guard take an ill-advised shot, when another Illini was in place for a better one.

No doubting Abrams' toughness or athletic ability, but the objective of the point guard is to set up his teammates, not try to make an extraordinarily difficult shot.  Seemed like he was trying to beat UM himself, rather than coordinate our entire team's attack.

I think we could have, and should have, won this game.

1 illinifan wrote on December 23, 2012 at 6:12 pm

We absolutely should have won this game, they just did not trust the system as Coach Groce mentioned. They certainly have the potential to be a great team and hope they realize that the system works for them sooner than later. For as bad as they were shooting their fight to be in the game was awesome. Looking forward to the other games. Great fight Illini! Just do yourselves a favor and trust the system, it really works.

calvin wrote on December 23, 2012 at 8:12 pm

great point about the pro three point line.........they took shots from behind the wrong line all night.........as if the college three pt. line was the women's line.........really think it had something to do with their concentration on their 3's