Illinois picked up its fifth straight win after edging Missouri in the Braggin' Rights Game on Wednesday Night. The annual contest between the two schools is played at the end of the non-conference season around Christmas. Illinois has won the last three meetings after losing four straight before that.
Wednesday's game was a game of runs. Illinois got off to a 6-0 start before Missouri rattled off 11 unanswered. The Illini closed the half on a 24-6 run and led the Tigers 41-27 going into the halftime break. Illinois would extend its lead to as many as 20 before going ice cold. The Illini went on a 9:29 drought where they were unable to score a single point. Missouri used this as an opportunity to climb back in the game, going on a 15-0 run over that stretch of time.
Malcolm Hill came up with some clutch baskets down the stretch, and even though Missouri was able to make some long three pointers in the final few minutes, the Illini held them off for a 68-63 victory. Here's a look at what we can learn from the 2015 Braggin' Rights Game.
1. The Illini Essentially Have 3-4 "Go-To" Guys
With the countless injuries that Illinois has sustained, it's had to get creative. There have been a number of different lineups, and players have come to fulfill larger roles than anticipated as a result. As all the dust is beginning to settle with conference play approaching, Illinois seems to have 3 go-to guys and one that is fairly reliable. Kendrick Nunn, Malcolm Hill, and Michael Finke are your go-to's at this point, and Jalen Coleman-Lands is beginning to show that he deserves to be in that category as well.
These four lead the Illini in scoring, with the exception of injured Mike Thorne Jr, and have continually been putting Illinois in position to win over the last month. Malcolm Hill has been a stud all season long, but Kendrick Nunn and Michael Finke are really coming along as scorers as well. Hill had 21 against Missouri while Nunn and Finke had 19 and 16 respectively. Coleman-Lands has had his good games and his bad game, but when the Illini need a three, they're looking in his direction. He had 8 against the Tigers.
2. Kendrick Nunn is a Much Better Rebound Than You'd Expect
Believe it or not, the 6'3" guard Kendrick Nunn had a double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds. His rebound numbers have actually been pretty good this season despite his position on the floor as a shooting guard. The junior is averaging more than 4.5 rebounds per game and is really showing that he can contribute beyond just scoring. Of the 11 boards that Nunn pulled down against Missouri on Wednesday, none was more clutch than the offensive rebound that gave the Illini an extra possession late in the game.
Kendrick Nunn's rebounding is a perfect example of the "next man up" mentality that the Illini have been forced to embrace. Without Mike Thorne Jr. pulling down boards, Illinois needs someone to hit the glass and that someone has been Kendrick Nunn. Obviously Malcolm Hill has been the best rebounder since Thorne Jr. tore his meniscus, but Nunn's contributions have been enormous nevertheless.