Illinois seeks to restore Braggin’ Rights


Illinois’ head coach John Groce instructs his team during the game against Darthmouth at State Farm Center, on Tuesday, Dec. 10 . The Illini won 72-65.

By Shannon Ryan

Last season was John Groce’s first experience as part of the annual Braggin’ Rights rivalry series against Missouri. It left an impression.

“There was more emotion to the game than what I thought,” the Illinois coach said. “We got caught up in that, but that can be a good thing if you can balance it.”

One emotion the Illini (9-2) will attempt to temper Saturday at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis is revenge.

They have lost four straight to the Tigers (10-0), including an 82-73 setback last season. That Mizzou run comes after the Illini had ripped off nine straight.

Of the Illini, only center Nnanna Egwu and guards Tracy Abrams and Joseph Bertrand have played in the series.

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Groce will be asking those veterans to help deliver his message to the rest of the young roster.

“Don’t let anyone steal your thoughts and your mind,” he said.

Or your 3-point defense.

The Illini, who are coming off a loss at Oregon, will have to concentrate on perimeter shooters. The Tigers shoot 36 percent from beyond the perimeter with Jabari Brown (27 of 64 for 42.2 percent), Earnest Ross (17 of 52 for 32.7 percent) and Jordan Clarkson (9 of 31 for 29 percent).

“Those three are as talented a trio from the perimeter as we’re going to see all year,” Groce said.

Like the Illini, the Tigers returned little from last season’s team with Brown the only starter.

Clarkson, a 6-foot-5 point guard who transferred from Tulsa, leads the team with 19.4 points and 3.9 assists per game.

“He means a lot to their team,” said Groce, who recruited Clarkson as a transfer.