Missouri Basketball: Tigers lose a close battle to Illinois

ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 20: Rayvonte Rice
ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 20: Rayvonte Rice /

In their first “Braggin’ Rights” game under head coach Cuonzo Martin, the Missouri Tigers fell to Illinois, 70-64.

A win over the Illini certainly would have been nice, but the Tigers are two games better than their overall record in 2016-17. In fact, Mizzou’s improvement on the court also drew praise from SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey.

In an interview with Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post, Sankey was both surprised and pleased to see the Tigers return to relevance in the SEC.

"They were (relevant) when Missouri joined the league if you remember. So it is good to have them back with the expectations that are there for the program and to see the enthusiasm of opening night at the Iowa State game. I forgot where I was but I was watching. It was great to see the arena full and then to hear they’ve sold their allotment for this game. We’ve got a basketball tournament here in March that feeds into that, so the timing’s good. But it’s also good to have Cuonzo back in the league. I’ve got a lot of respect for what he’s done both in the SEC and at Cal. He’s proving himself to be a worthy hire.More from Truman's TalesBelieve it or not, Missouri football has never played these FBS teamsMissouri Tigers all-time round-by-round NCAA tournament recordMarch Madness schedule: When do the Missouri Tigers play next? (Updated Round of 64)The Missouri Tigers Kansas Jayhawks Border War RenewsMarching Mizzou Marches into the Big Apple"

Missouri, 10-3, still has a way to go to prove that the Tigers’ turnaround is more than a flash in the pan. So far, the Tigers have shown they can win against teams they are better than, but against programs like Xavier, Arizona and Illinois, Mizzou has to show it can hang in and beat the better teams.

There are many reasons to be excited about this team this year and going forward, but we have to keep some perspective and know that, at least for now, the Tigers haven’t completed a 180 turnaround; not until they can find ways to win against perennial winners.

Among all of this, when Michael Porter, Jr. returns to the team, the Tigers should see a bit of resurgence, but MPJ’s return could be a short one, if the freshman decides to declare for the NBA Draft at the conclusion of Missouri’s season.

In the first half of the game, the Tigers were outscored by the Illini, 42-22, but in the second half, the Tigers outscored the Illini 42-28, but it wasn’t enough, as Illinois held on and won by six.

South Carolina is next for Missouri, as the Tigers have about 10 days to regroup and prepare for the Gamecocks on January 3.