Men’s basketball completes six-game homestand undefeated


Austin Yattoni

Illinois guard Aaron Jordan celebrates after hitting a three during the game against North Carolina Central at State Farm Center on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017. Jordan was disappointed in the team’s performance in the first half despite the Illini’s completion of the nonconference homestand undefeated.

By Will Gerard, Staff writer

Coach Brad Underwood replaced freshman Mark Smith with junior Aaron Jordan within the first minute of the second half.

Jordan came out with a three-pointer from the right corner, and then drew a charge on the ensuing possession. He scored 16 points on 6-7 shooting from the field and finished 4-5 from three-point range.

Illinois overcame a one-point deficit at halftime in an 86-73 victory over North Carolina Central University, the team’s sixth win of the early season. The last time the Illini had such a record was the 2014-2015 campaign.

“We’ve got to play better,” Jordan said. “Everyone knew that was probably one of the worst halves we’ve played thus far.”

N.C. Central finished the first half on a 19-6 run over the final 5:40 minutes.

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Freshman guard Regigie Gardner Jr. hit a three-pointer with six seconds left in the half to give the Eagles a lead before halftime. Gardner finished with a team-high 18 points in 32 minutes.

Junior forward Michael Finke scored 22 points and brought down six rebounds. Finke finished just shy of a career-high of 24 points, scored against Western Carolina in 2015. He recorded his second career double-double in a 96-62 victory Wednesday night over Division III opponent, Augustana.

Finke matched another career-high as he made five three-point shots Friday.

Illinois shot 45-percent (28-62) from the field and 41-percent (12-29) on three-point attempts.

Leron Black and Kipper Nichols had 12 and 14 points, respectively. Black had a team-high 8 rebounds. Nichols was 2-2 from behind the arc and 6-7 on free-throw attempts.

Te’Jon Lucas led the Illini with six of the team’s 20 assists.

“I thought Te’Jon really set the tone for us,” Finke said. “Defensively, he really got after it, (and) he really controlled the offense, which led to us making that run to start the second half.”

Smith scored just three points, which all came late in the contest, and made only one of six field goals attempts. He has shot 2-18 from three-point range so far this season.

Underwood said that he “knew all day” and “just sensed” his team wasn’t completely ready for the game.

“We weren’t overly sharp in shootaround today,” Underwood said. “Let’s be honest, we do that in Big Ten play and we’re losing; it doesn’t matter who we’re playing.”

It was the fourth game in eight days for the Illini, and concluded a six-game nonconference homestand. They had just one day to prepare for the game in a third of seven of “one-day preps” on the schedule.

Illinois hits the road for a match-up against Wake Forest on Tuesday. The game is scheduled to tip-off at 9 p.m. as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

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