Illinois basketball player Kofi Cockburn blocks Missouri player Amari Davis

Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn gets prepared to attempt to block the shot of Missouri’s Amari Davis on Wednesday at Enterprise Center in St. Louis. Cockburn and the Illini dominated the Tigers 88-63 on Wednesday, sending MU to another humiliating defeat at the hands of a rival. Missouri lost 102-65 to Kansas on Dec. 11.

ST. LOUIS — In large part, it seemed that Kofi Cockburn could have beaten Missouri by himself Wednesday night. The 7-foot Illinois center had a lot to do with the Fighting Illini’s 88-63 Braggin’ Rights win over the Tigers, and at the end of it all it seemed he knew he played his part.

Walking into the Enterprise Center media room after his 25 points and 14 rebounds, smiling ear to ear, he finally got the better of Missouri after his team fell short three consecutive years. Lifting the comically large trophy onto the small stage, his smile never left.

“Isn’t she beautiful?”

It was that kind of night for Cockburn and the Illini. The only Tiger who had any answer for him was Trevon Brazile, and he could only do so much.

For Missouri, the receiving end of Cockburn’s night was particularly stinging. For the second time this season, the Tigers were blown out by a border rival. No. 8 Kansas beat them by 37; Illinois beat them by 25. Neither game was close.

Missouri’s struggles aren’t new. They just aren’t getting better. It could be argued that they’re getting worse against decent teams.

Dire perimeter defense

There are few things Missouri struggles with more than perimeter defense. It’s been evident from the start of the season against Central Michigan and was exemplified by Evan Gilyard II against Kansas City.

The Tigers had their hands full with Cockburn in the post. That was always going to be the case. But with that, protecting the perimeter was going to be essential.

And for the No. 331 3-point defense in the country, it did not go well.

Missouri allowed 12 3-pointers to fall, the second-most this season behind the beating from the Jayhawks. Three Illini — Alfonso Plummer, Trent Frazier and Jacob Grandison — hit three from behind the arc. In comparison, the Tigers hit six total.

No post presence

While Illinois had Cockburn in the post, Missouri had no one close to that level.

Kobe Brown was good, but he isn’t the same player as Cockburn. He doesn’t provide the same threat. No one on the Tigers’ roster does.

Brown is good in and around the paint. He had his 10th double-digit points game of the season. But he isn’t the guy to provide what Cockburn does.

If anyone on Missouri’s roster is the one who should be that guy, based on size, it’s Jordan Wilmore. The 7-3 center has seen a more prevalent role this season than last, but he simply is nowhere close to being the player Cockburn is.

Wilmore played one minute against Illinois with a stat line filled by zeros. Cockburn played 29 minutes, and his stats are well-documented.

You don’t necessarily need a player to fill the same role as Cockburn. But it would certainly help the Tigers if they at least had someone to replace Jeremiah Tilmon’s production from last season.

They simply do not have that.

Brazile’s career night

If there was anyone on Missouri who could hold their head high, it was Brazile. It was only the freshman’s fourth collegiate game after missing the first eight of the season because of an unspecified medical issue, but since being back he hasn’t looked out of place whatsoever.

The Tigers needed someone to compete with Cockburn in the post, and Brazile was the only one who gave him any sort of challenge. He finished the night with six blocks, which is the third-most of any MU freshman ever.

He got it done on the offensive side, too, scoring 11 points.

Brazile had his second start in a row, and that trend should be expected to continue. Coach Cuonzo Martin said the Kickapoo product was in contention for a starting spot prior to the season and that he earned it against Utah.

It appears he’s earned it going forward, too.

  • Missouri soccer and men's basketball beat writer, Fall 2021. Reach me at anthony.kristensen17@gmail.com, or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

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