Phil Pressey dominated the Braggin’ Rights game despite putting up one of the worst shooting nights of his career. Pressey, who goes by the nickname “Flip”, might have changed it to “Chuck” after going 2-18 from the floor. And yet, Pressey proved the truism that a pass-first point guard can change a game without scoring, dishing out ten assists on the night and controlling the tempo of a chippy, physical Braggin’ Rights game.
The Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis was split down the middle, with solid orange on one side, and solid gold on the other. Illinois fans came hoping to see Missouri’s three-game win streak in the vicious rivalry snapped, but they went home disappointed. Missouri claimed a fourth straight in the non-conference rivalry game, and Illinois saw its streak of 10 wins to start the season halted by a Missouri team that seems built for a postseason run.
Brandon Paul, the Illini point man, poured in 23 points of his own, hitting 11-14 from the line along the way. The Illini were simply no match for the Tigers inside, where second-chance points and pinpoint outlet passes changed the tide of the see-saw game in favor of Missouri.
The Braggin’ Rights game is always a heavyweight punch-out, but it looked even more so this season, as newcomer Alex Oriakhi — who spent the first three years of his career at UConn — got into the spirit early. Oriakhi and his new teammates were involved in multiple extracurricular kerfuffles during the game, which fortunately never got out of control, despite several instances of officials needing to intervene between combatants on the court.
Missouri will be a very tough out this season. With Oriakhi providing the beef up front, and Laurence Bowers pogoing into the open spaces his new teammate creates, this team is bigger and capable of getting better shots than most opponents. Pressey’s cool confidence seems to be catching, as well. Braggin’ Rights could be just the beginning for this team, as it prepares to enter an SEC race that seems wide open at this point.
Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.