The Missouri Tigers hadn't beaten rival Illinois since 1999, losing games in which they've been favored as well as those they weren't expected to win. Wednesday's game was more of a toss-up with a slight edge going to Bruce Weber's team, who had already won at Clemson thus far. But the Tigers were able to control the flow of play, forcing 22 Illinois turnovers on their way to an 81-68 win. While Illinois outrebounded the Tigers 44-32 and all five starters reached double figures Missouri forced 22 turnovers and held the Illini to 39.7% shooting from the field.
Kim English led the way with 24 points, including a career-high five three pointers, and Michael Dixon added sixteen points with five assists and three steals. Another characteristic of the Tigers under Mike Anderson has been their willingness to share the basketball. On Wednesday nineteen of their twenty-eight field goals were assisted while the Illini had just thirteen assists for twenty-seven made baskets. But the main headline will go to the Missouri pressure; fewer than half of Illinois' turnovers (10) came via the steal; the Tigers don't have to take the ball from you to force you into mistakes. And as a result Missouri can celebrate their first win in the Braggin' Rights game since 1999.
Three Key Happenings
1. If you're going to beat West Virginia you'd better rebound. The Mountaineers, who had fifteen offensive rebounds in the first half against Ole Miss, outrebounded the Rebels 50-28 on their way to a 76-66 win in Morgantown. For the game Bob Huggins' team had 22 offensive rebounds; had that number been their sole output on the boards they would have been just a minus-6 for the game. West Virginia isn't blessed with wide bodies; they simply have a number of versatile players willing to get after it on the boards. And once they got it going from the perimeter early in the second half they could essentially pick the final score.
Wellington Smith made five three pointers on his way to a game-high nineteen while Devin Ebanks added 14 points and 13 rebounds. And while they did finish with eighteen turnovers the Mountaineers also had 22 assists on 28 field goals; if they can limit the turnovers while regaining their perimeter stroke West Virginia will be the team many expect to contend in the Big East.
2. Nevada and Old Dominion make impressive statements. Both the Wolf Pack and Monarchs scored blowout victories over teams expected to contend for their respective conference titles. Nevada demolished Tulsa in the third-place game of the Las Vegas Classic, winning by a final score of 99-68. The first half was bad enough for the Golden Hurricane, who went into the locker room down 48-30. But things got even worse in the second half as they came out of the gates cold while Nevada continued to score at will. Luke Babbitt proved to be too much, totaling 24 points and 11 rebounds while Brandon Fields and Armon Johnson scored seventeen apiece.
As for the Monarchs, they absolutely hammered a Charlotte squad that some pegged a contender in the Atlantic 10 based on their early success, which included an impressive win at Louisville. But none of that mattered to Gerald Lee (16 points, seven rebounds) and company, who kept the momentum gained from their win at Georgetown going with an 81-48 win. ODU ranks second nationally in points allowed per game and they went into the half leading 40-13. The 49ers shot 16% from the field in the first twenty minutes and 33.3% for the game; ODU finished with a field goal percentage of 53.0%. Simply put: Nevada and Old Dominion made emphatic statements to their conferences and the nation on Wednesday.
3. Oral Roberts knocks New Mexico from the ranks of the unbeaten. The Golden Eagles were able to pick up another big win at the Mabee Center, this time handing the Lobos their first loss of the season by a 75-66 final. New Mexico's top two scorers, Darington "Butta" Hobson and Roman Martinez, combined to score just fifteen points on 6-of-23 shooting, while ORU's Michael Craion (18 pts, 13 reb) and Dominique Morrison (17 pts) combined for thirty-five. New Mexico made just five of nineteen shots from behind the arc and finished the game with an overall field goal percentage of 37.3%. Oral Roberts was far more efficient offensively, making 46.9% of their shots and finishing with fifteen assists on twenty-two made field goals. As Missouri can attest to the Mabee Center is a dangerous place to play; add New Mexico to the list of teams who've found that out the hard way.
Top Three Games
1. Arizona 76, NC State 74 Nic Wise provided the heroics for the second consecutive game, going the length of the floor to score the game-winning basket with nine tenths of a second left on the clock. Freshman Derrick Williams led all scorers with twenty-four while the Wolfpack were led by Javier Gonzalez, who spearheaded a late rally and scored eighteen.
2. Xavier 70, Miami (OH) 67 The Musketeers survived a wild final minute, beating the Redhawks by three at the Cintas Center. Jordan Crawford led Xavier with nineteen but it was a late charging call on Kenny Hayes (24 points) that sealed the game.
3. Missouri 81, Illinois 68 See above.
Three Notable Performances
1. F Trey Thompkins (Georgia) The talented sophomore led the Bulldogs to a 77-60 win over Florida Atlantic with 30 points and 15 rebounds.
2. F JaMychal Green (Alabama) Another sophomore in the SEC led his team to victory, with Green scoring 27 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in the Crimson Tide's 90-71 win over Mercer.3. G Aubrey Coleman (Houston) Coleman scored thirty-three points, shooting 9-for-11 from behind the arc, in the Cougars' 105-81 pasting of TCU.