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Aaron Jordan emerging as team leader

Illinois+guard+Aaron+Jordan+%2823%29+celebrates+after+hitting+a+three-pointer+during+the+game+against+Southern+at+State+Farm+Center+on+Friday%2C+Nov.+10%2C+2017.
Illinois guard Aaron Jordan (23) celebrates after hitting a three-pointer during the game against Southern at State Farm Center on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017.

Illinois guard Aaron Jordan (23) celebrates after hitting a three-pointer during the game against Southern at State Farm Center on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois guard Aaron Jordan (23) celebrates after hitting a three-pointer during the game against Southern at State Farm Center on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017.

By Will Gerard, Staff writer

Following an 86-73 victory over North Carolina Central, Illinois first-year head coach Brad Underwood called junior guard Aaron Jordan “the poster child for hard work paying off on the court.”

Jordan’s hard work has certainly paid off after scoring just 23 points last year. He now holds a three-point shooting percentage (65.7-percent) through nine games this season and has made 15 of his last 23 attempts from three-point range.

“When I run down the court on the left side, the opponent’s bench will most likely say, ‘shooter, shooter, shooter,’ and you know with that comes all of the opportunities for my teammates,” Jordan said. “If they’re going to stay with me in the corner and just not move, then that’s a lane to drive, and I know my point guards are skilled enough to get to the basket and finish.”

Despite the recent success, Jordan has stuck to his daily routine of shooting at the team’s practice facility in the morning sometime between 6:30-8:30 am depending on the team’s schedule for the day.

“He excites me more for what he brings in personality and attitude than he does his play, and his play is tremendous,” Underwood said.

Other players, such as freshmen Matic Vesel and Mark Smith, have previously joined Jordan in his early morning routine, however, fellow freshman Da’Monte Williams in particular has made it a priority to learn from Jordan’s work habits on a daily basis.

“He’s the one that got us going offensively when he checked in the game,” Underwood said.

Jordan and Williams were in the group of five Underwood substituted into the game after trailing Maryland 10-0 early with the starting five on the floor Monday night.

“The second group came out and gave us tremendous energy and passion,” senior guard Mark Alstork said. “They impacted the run going into that second half.”

Coming off a 14-point night against Northwestern, Alstork again had success scoring the ball in an overtime defeat. He tied the season-high 17 points he scored against Southern University in the first game of the season, and he was a perfect 4 of 4 from the field in the overtime session.

Illinois (6-3, 0-2 Big Ten) has recently faltered as of late, and it looks to overcome a three-game losing streak at home against Austin Peay (4-4) tonight.

As a program, Austin Peay has not beat any Big Ten opponent since its upset over third-seeded Illinois during the 1987 NCAA tournament. Some Illini fans may remember that game on March 12, 1987, like Underwood does. He was then in his first-year of marriage and still hadn’t coached a college basketball game.

Underwood recalls announcer Dick Vitale promising to stand on his head after the famous upset.

“Let’s pray to the good Lord above that doesn’t happen tomorrow, and Dick keeps his mouth shut,” Underwood said.

Illinois routed Austin Peay 107-66 when the program last met at Assembly Hall in 2014.

Head coach Matt Figger worked alongside Underwood as an assistant under Frank Martin at Kansas State and South Carolina.

As a result, the Governors brings a similar style of play to the State Farm Center; they have averaged 26.8 points per game off turnovers over their past six games.

Illinois had 16 steals against Maryland, which was the most for the program since 2000.

“[Austin Peay] plays the same kind of defense. They’re extremely physical. They don’t have tremendous size, but they have defensive-end type guys,” Underwood said.

@WillGerard10

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