Braggin’ Rights Game Shows Illinois Fighting Illini Have Room For Improvement

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You figured at some point Illinois was due for a loss. The remarkable start to the Fighting Illini’s season under first-year head coach John Groce couldn’t last forever.

It ended Saturday night in the Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis. Illinois lost 82-73 to Missouri because the Tigers were the better team in this showdown of nationally ranked teams.

Illinois isn’t a bad team.

Did it belong in the top 10? Probably not.

But what the Fighting Illini couldn’t do against the Tigers was knock down 3-pointers at will. They were 8-of-32 from beyond the arc. That type of performance usually doesn’t get it done against anyone.

Illinois also got pushed around inside. It was out-rebounded 58-35 and outscored 44-24 in the paint.

It really didn’t matter that Illinois couldn’t consistently hit shots from the outside because it had no answer for the Tigers’ ability to dominate near the basket.

Missouri is the real deal and deserving of its No. 12 national ranking.

“They’ve got a lot of depth and they’ve got size,” Groce said in a post-game press conference. “They’re good now. They’ve got a chance to get even better moving forward.”

Illinois still has some work to do. It hasn’t earned a place among the elite in the country yet even if it has been one of the feel-good stories of the first two months of the season.

Still, as tough as this loss was for the Fighting Illini to digest, it’s not as if they got blown off the floor. Even on a bad shooting night, even on a night when it got pushed around in the paint, Illinois had chances to nail down a win against a very good opponent.

And for an Illinois team that wasn’t expected to do much this season, it’s something positive for the Fighting Illini to build on going forward.

Brian Lester is a featured Big Ten columnist and college basketball writer for Rant Sports. He is a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association as well.

Follow him on Twitter @BLester1993 or send him an email at collegehoopswriter@hotmail.com.

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