Amid an eight-game losing streak to the University of Illinois during 1983-1991, then-Missouri coach Norm Stewart suggested the Braggin’ Rights series could be enlivened by a “let-me-win” rule every few years or so.
In 2005, during what would become a nine-game Illinois series winning streak, MU got clobbered by 32 points to leave then-Tiger coach Quin Snyder suffering the indignity of popcorn dumped on his head — by a Missouri fan — as he left the floor.
So there is plenty of precedent for MU and its fans to go apoplectic when it comes to this series, and in that sense the 75-66 loss to Illinois on Wednesday at the Scottrade Center hardly ranks among the most jarring defeats here.
Trouble is, that’s part of the numbing broader context for MU basketball.
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The Tigers tumbled to 5-6 overall before the smallest crowd (12,409) ever to attend a game in a building that has crammed 10,000 more people in here for what was once an irresistible Christmas extravaganza.
Of the 8,000 tickets MU had available for sale, only 2,850 were claimed.
Combine that with the ever-dwindling attendance at Mizzou Arena, and apathy obviously has permeated the fan base in ways it hasn’t since before Stewart revitalized the program after taking over 50 years ago this spring.
That’s different, of course, than saying it about the team, which scrapped all the way and trailed 69-63 before Illinois pulled away in the final 1:27.
But the Tigers were undone by another miserable shooting night, hitting just 22 of 61 field goals, a function both of taking a number of ill-considered shots and simply missing open ones against an Illinois team (10-3) that was quicker, bigger and stronger.
In sum, it became another dispiriting demerit on a ledger that already has two unsightly ones on it in the form of home losses to North Carolina Central and Eastern Illinois.
What is looming as the season of truth for coach Kim Anderson is taking on the complexion of Missouri’s games themselves: falling behind early and left to fight uphill in the second half, aka the Southeastern Conference season.
Anderson knows this, of course, and he’s now at a point where he is shaking things up.
For one thing, after the game, Anderson said MU had installed a new offense in the last few days.
And if MU got nothing else out of the game on Wednesday, it seemed to establish some clarity in Anderson’s thinking.
“I think this game showed me some things about our team,” he said.
So Anderson expects he’ll be refining his lineup and rotation and shortening his bench when MU resumes play with one last nonconference game Dec. 29 against Lipscomb before opening SEC play Jan. 4 against LSU at Mizzou Arena.
That would seem to mean more time for reserve point guard Jordan Geist, who triggered an MU second-half surge in place of foul-laden and suddenly rudderless Terrence Phillips — and who Anderson afterwards acknowledged should have played more.
Anderson also mentioned freshman Reed Nikko and Texas transfer Jordan Barnett (who became eligible at the end of the first semester) as players who figured to see more time.
And perhaps he’s considering recasting freshman Frankie Hughes (one of 11 from the field as his shooting funk continues) and sophomore Cullen VanLeer (a three-point specialist who missed badly with a chance to cut it to three with just over two minutes left) to come off the bench for a while to relax them.
And from out here in the peanut gallery it sure looks like freshman Willie Jackson should be on the floor more.
Maybe there is some alchemy yet to be had in continuing to seek the right blend among a group that has no superstar but still can be better than the sum of its parts.
But it’s a steep and treacherous climb ahead now, all the more so after a loss in a game that used to mean so much and at times has been a catalyst for MU.
This wasn’t the worst of Mizzou’s defeats in this series, but it’s one that reflects the wobbly state of a program that is becoming an afterthought to all but the most faithful fans as it stands at the crossroads.