Dec 23, 2017

Have I ever mentioned my relationship with the Braggin' Rights game? I HAVE? You mean I've incessantly written about it dozens of times, boring my readers to death? WELL WHO'S UP FOR ONE MORE? OK, not really, but kind of. Here's how tonight went: I almost left.

My history, if you don't know it. I used to go to the Braggin' Rights game with dad, my friend Missy, and her dad, a friend of my dad's (they played high school football together in the 60's). Missy and her dad are Mizzou fans - my dad and I, Illini fans. We'd sit together, make fun of each other, you get the picture.

A month before the 1993 game - that game - my dad passed away suddenly. We already had the tickets, and I felt like he'd want me to be there, so I went with my mom taking his ticket. At the end of the third overtime, while walking out, I broke down in the stairwell. I had done the "I'll be tough for my mom" thing for the first month but after the emotions of that 3 OT loss I broke. The tears flowed and flowed. And yes, some Mizzou fans stood over me and mocked me for crying, and yes, that's why I'll hate the school for the rest of my life, and yes, that was the genesis of why I stopped going to (or watching) the game.

After the 2013 game, when Tracy hit two free throws to win, I decided I would return. I was in attendance when Rayvonte hit the buzzer beater in 2014 and once again I broke down crying. A true full-circle moment in my life. I've attended each game since.

But it's still not easy. It's still an emotional thing. About 10 minutes into the first half, I texted my wife and told her I was considering just coming home. The last few years were fine but something about this year was too much. I felt completely overwhelmed. It's amazing how it hits me out of nowhere.

Part of it was probably texting with Missy at the beginning of the game. She was here tonight, but not with her dad - he passed away 18 months ago. So thinking back to those games 25 years ago and attending with our dads, yeah, it just hits you like a ton of bricks. Three of my friends have lost parents this last year, and my wife's mom and brother passed away, so that all probably has a lot to do with my emotions tonight. It all feels fresh again at this moment.

I stayed, though. And I found a solution - I got up and paced around. I didn't get a courtside seat tonight - they stuck me up at the top in the press row by the roof. Which was perfect. That photo you see up there. That's where I walked back and forth and processed my emotions.

Now, normally I can't do this. I'm not going to get up and pace around in the Memorial Stadium pressbox, for example. This was a one-off. I just had this overwhelming emotional thing going on, and with a 20 point lead slipping away and my heart pacing and FEEL OVERLOAD I just got up and walked around.

And it was great. I walked off all of my emotions. We tried to hand the game to Missouri, they wouldn't take it, and I just kept walking back and forth until I calmed down. Leron hit the three... pace and smile. Missouri answered immediately.. pace and frown. TeJon missed the free throws... pace and scream internally. Trent put the game out of reach... sit down and relax.

The emotions for me when we win this game... man, it's a lot. All of the negative emotions in that stairwell back in 1993 get a little further away. Instead, I can think about things like "man, my dad would have LOVED Trent Frazier". And I can just sit and smile.

+ OK, I'll talk basketball. The first half - just about as good as we can play. What was it - 16 Missouri turnovers? We saw why Underwood runs with this defense. Against a team like Missouri that just doesn't have any guards, this defense can frustrate and frustrate and hold to 22 points.

And then in the second half we saw what happens when this offense stalls and the refs start calling fouls because we reach and reach. Missouri cut a 20 point halftime deficit to four and it felt like 2015 again (when we let Missouri cut a 20 point lead to four). But, just like that game, we made a late push and won.

This was basically the Maryland game but in reverse. One great half, one awful half, but this time we hung on and won. Over Missouri. For our 5th straight. Pushing our series record in St. Louis to what - 25-12? M-I-Z, WE-OWN-YOU.

+ Trent Frazier, ladies and gentlemen. OK, yes, he was something like 5-16 from the floor and kept going for that left-handed layup that wouldn't fall (to the point where I hoped he'd stop trying for it). But when we needed free throws, Trent Frazier. When we needed a huge and-1 to put the game out of reach, Trent Frazier. When we needed two huge bombs to push the lead to 20 at halftime, Trent Frazier.

So again it continues to look like we'll have everything we need for future backcourts. Frazier, Smith, Williams, Ayo arriving next year - these freshmen (plus next year's freshman) appear to be the real deal.

Really, this game was just Frazier and Black. Actually, looking at the box score, it was just a four-man game. Frazier had 22, Black had 20, Smith had 11, Finke had 10, and then everyone else either had 2 points, 1 point, or 0 points.

+ So, beat Grand Canyon and that's a 10-3 non-conference. But we've already started 0-2 in the Big Ten (man that could have so easily been 2-0), so we'll enter the new year 10-5. The NCAA Tournament is probably a pipe dream - with a Big Ten this bad and losses like New Mexico State, we'd probably need 10-8 in the conference or maybe even 11-7 to get over the bubble. And I don't think we're finishing the season 12-5, especially since four of our first five Big Ten games are at Michigan, at Minnesota, at Nebraska, at Wisconsin.

But hey, it's nice to win one of these bigger games and head into Christmas on a high note. This season is about next season, and it feels like things are still on track for us to have our breakout moment next year in Maui. Especially if Ayo keeps scoring 60 points in high school games.

And hey, it's REALLY nice to beat Missouri. Did I mention that we OWN THEM?


Bear8287 on December 23 @ 10:37 PM CST

losses like New Mexico State,

Last I checked NMSt was up 29-25 at the half over undefeated #6 Miami.

If the Illini beat Grand Canyon and go 10-6 in the remaining B1G games, they'll get in.

AHSIllini32 on December 24 @ 07:27 AM CST

Robert please don’t ever apologize for sharing that story about why you’re so invested in this game. Most of us come here for the raw emotion of your writing and every time I read this part of your experience is hits me in the feels. So I thank you.

Also NMSt beat Miami tonight that’s not a bad loss by any means.

cuinsocal on December 24 @ 11:29 AM CST

NMST beat Miami. Makes that loss to them look a whole lot better. Sure would have been nice to at least split the two B10 games, though.

Beat GCU and on to the B10. This has already been a fun season.

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