The Illinois Fighting Illini made the three hour trip to St. Louis, Missouri to take on the undefeated and 23rd ranked Missouri Tigers for the Braggin’ Rights game. The Illini were able to overcome a slow start on Saturday in route to a one point victory over a very good Missouri Tigers team.
Illinois had their up’s and down’s from Saturday’s game, but what can we, as Illini fans, take away from this big win?
1. The defense proves to be the strong point of this year’s Illini squad.
Illinois’ defense showed once again on Saturday that they have the ability to hold their opponent under their season average when it comes to points. Coming into Saturday, Mizzou was averaging 77.6 points per game this season and the Illini held the undefeated Tigers to just 64 points. Illinois was able to do this by not only forcing Missouri to turn over the ball 14 times in the game, but also by their overall defense against Jabari Brown.
Brown came in as the Tigers’ second leading scorer behind Jordan Clarkson averaging about 18 point per contest. Yes, Brown scored 10 points on Saturday, but went 3-of-11 from the field (3-of-7 from three) and 1-of-2 from the foul line. Everyone knew that Clarkson would get his points on Saturday. Because of that, Illinois made Jabari Brown the focus and successful kept him in check in the game.
2. This Illinois team is growing with each and every game.
The Illinois Fighting Illini added a bunch of new faces during the offseason and have experienced some growing pains to start this season. Rayvonte Rice and Jon Ekey have found their fit in the Illinois starting lineup. However, the bench is still growing, but this will happen when a team has such a young bench. Illinois is beginning to find their identity and now it’s about the young bench players finding their role on this team. Once that happens, expect great things from the Fighting Illini this season.
3. Joseph Bertrand is NOT Brandon Paul.
There was no doubt that Brandon Paul was the senior leader for the Fighting Illini last season. He was the guy that Illinois wanted to take the last shot in games (much like his did against Minnesota at the United Center). Joseph Bertrand might be the senior leader of the Illini this year, but Illini fans should not expect him to be what Paul was.
On Saturday, Bertrand was the one that passed the ball to Jon Ekey for the three pointer to put the Illini up one with 50 seconds left. He also was not the guy to take the last shot of the game following a big three by Mizzou’s Jabari Brown. We also have to remember that Bertrand is in his first season as a full starter at Illinois (started 5 games last season). Paul was a 30-game starter in both his junior and senior seasons.
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