Off to a 5-0 start, the Missouri men’s basketball team is back in The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in nearly seven years. Head coach Cuonzo Martin and the Tigers found themselves at No. 16 in the polls after an impressive victory in the annual Braggin’ Rights game against No. 13 Illinois.
December 12 marked the 38th consecutive year inter-state rivals Illinois and Missouri participated in the Braggin’ Rights game. Illinois has led the historic series 32-18 but Missouri has won each of the last two. This win from the Tigers marks the third straight season Illinois will not be bringing the Braggin’ Rights rivalry trophy back with them to Champaign.
“I feel like the title of the game explains itself: Braggin’ Rights,” Pinson said. “This game was important. We got a top-10 team coming into our house. We got to defend our home and we have to defend the trophy. Just to get a three-peat and add to that history for Mizzou, that means everything to me. It can’t get any better than that.”
In the intense 81-78 win over Ayo Dosunmu and the Fighting Illini, Missouri led for nearly 36 minutes of game action and for the entirety of the second half. The Tigers looked solid throughout the night, playing physically and shooting with confidence. Dru Smith and Javon Pickett led the way, scoring 17 and 14 points respectively.
However, what makes this win notable for the Tigers is the fact that Illinois played fairly well. They shot 52.7% from the field. Dosunmu had a career-high 36 points, going 13 for 20 on the night. Kofi Cockburn added 19 points with six rebounds and Andre Curbelo put up 14 points off the bench. Missouri played through it and fought hard in a nail-biting effort to come away with the win.
Ultimately, three point shooting is what lost the game for Illinois. They struggled to find any rhythm throughout the game, knocking down only 3/13 attempts from deep. Freshman sharpshooter Adam Miller went 0/3 from beyond the arc and the trio of Dosunmu, Damonte Williams and Trent Frazier made a combined three outside shots.
Mizzou is now one of only two Southeastern Conference teams in the top 25 this week, along with No. 8 Tennessee (2-0). Florida, Georgia and Arkansas are also receiving votes. Missouri will continue their shocking season and prove to be SEC contenders, after being placed 10 in preseason conference rankings. They’ll be playing Prairie View A&M Panthers this Friday and No. 10 Tennessee later this month.
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