Illinois men’s basketball heads to St. Louis for annual Braggin’ Rights game

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Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

Kofi Cockburn tries to drive to the basket during Illinois’ 81-78 loss to Missouri in Columbia on Dec. 12, 2020. The Braggin’ Rights game will head back to St. Louis as the Illini look to snap their three-game losing streak against the Missouri Tigers.

By Jackson Janes, Sports Editor

Looking for its first Braggin’ Rights win since 2017, Illinois will head to St. Louis to take on Missouri on Wednesday night.

The Illini have lost three straight games to the Tigers, with the most recent defeat being an upset in Columbia last season, with Missouri taking down No. 6 Illinois in a three-point victory.

“It hasn’t been real fun in there the last three times we played, and that’s to give them credit. I’m not gonna make an excuse,” said Illini head coach Brad Underwood. “We didn’t compete; we didn’t play very hard.”

Both teams have lost big contributors from last year’s contest, with Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu heading to the NBA and Missouri’s Mark Smith, who played for the Illini for one season, and Xavier Pinson transferring to Kansas State and Louisiana State, respectively, and Dru Smith and Jeremiah Tilmon going to the NBA G League.

After losing their top four scorers from last season, the Tigers sit at 6-5 heading into Wednesday’s contest, while they beat Utah on Saturday for their first Power 5 victory of the season.

Kobe Brown, who was the team’s fifth-highest scorer last year, has been Missouri’s player of the season thus far, as he leads the team in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocks with 15 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.7 steals and one block per game while shooting 56.2%.

While Brown has been the star of the show for the Tigers, they have collectively struggled on offense, averaging just 67.9 points per game, which ranks 262nd in the country, while the Illini sit 32nd in the nation with 80.5 points per game.

Illinois enters the annual rivalry game with an 8-3 record and is coming off a blowout win over Saint Francis (Pa.) that saw the Illini set a new program record with 18 made 3-pointers. 

Despite the 58-point win on Saturday, the Illini have struggled with turnovers all season, averaging 16.6 per game thus far this year. Though that margin has improved after committing a season-high 26 turnovers in a 67-66 loss to Marquette on Nov. 15, Underwood still pinpoints that as a recurring issue this season.

“It’s something we’ve obviously gotta be concerned about,” Underwood said. “It’s the one thing that’s hurting our defense more than anything. … Obviously it’s been something that we’ve gotta control as we move forward in Big Ten play.”

Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. at Enterprise Center in downtown St. Louis.

 

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