LIVE! Southern

LIVE! Southern

CHAMPAIGN — Mark Alstork and Aaron Jordan scored 17 points apiece, three more Illinois players hit double digits and the Illini opened the 2017-18 season with a 102-55 rout of Southern at State Farm Center.

Illinois (1-0) will return to action at 5 p.m. Sunday against Tennessee Martin. Be sure to check out IlliniHQ.com in the next two days for more from the big Illini win and the upcoming game.

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Illinois 87, Southern 45 — 7:42 left in left in 2nd

Aaron Jordan just hit a three-pointer. The State Farm Center crowd erupted. That happens when you don't make many. Anyway, Illinois continues to roll.

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Illinois 72, Southern 41 — 11:43 left in 2nd

Guess what? Illinois still only has two made three-pointers. Plus 14 misses from deep to go with the makes. But the Illini still have a 31-point lead.

A year ago shooting 13 percent from three-point range would have been a fatal blow for Illinois. At least tonight the Illini have found other ways to score. Shooting 92 percent (24 of 26) at the free throw line has helped. Maybe all those sprints for missed free throws at practice have conditioned the team to only make them in games.

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Illinois 53, Southern 31 — Halftime

Can anyone remember the last time Illinois put up 50-plus points in the first half? These Illini did just that and did so even shooting 2 of 13 from three-point range. The fact they still shot 48 percent overall for the half speaks to quite an efficient shooting night inside the three-point line. Add in 19 of 20 free throw shooting, and Illinois has the clear upper hand after 20 minutes of action.

Mark Alstork leads the Illini with 13 points, including his buzzer beater to end the half, and Michael Finke is in double digits himself with 10 points. Kipper Nichols (nine points), Leron Black (eight) and Mark Smith (seven) make for a rather balanced offense.

And Illinois fans are pretty happy about it ...

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Illinois 32, Southern 19 — 7:54 left in 1st

Brad Underwood wanted more from his veteran players after last week's exhibition loss to EIU. Those Illini apparently took that to heart. Michael Finke has eight points and three rebounds (three more than he had against the Panthers), and Leron Black has eight points of his own with a team-high four rebounds. 

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Illinois 11, Southern 5 — 16:00 left in 1st

Illinois showing some good things through the first 4 minutes of the game. That the Illini's first made field goal came on a putback dunk by Michael Finke after he hauled in the offensive rebound is a good sign on two fronts. First, Finke got a rebound. He had zero last week against EIU. Second, it was a dunk.

Mark Alstork also showed some aggressiveness in attacking the rim. Mark Smith made a three-pointer. Leron Black is also rebounding. Finke grabbed two more after his first.

So ... it's a success. At least 4 minutes into the season.

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Illinois vs. Southern — BTN Plus, 7 p.m.

Last pregame update with tipoff coming ...

— Starters tonight for Illinois are Te'Jon Lucas, Mark Smith, Mark Alstork, Leron Black and Michael Finke.

— Southern is going with LaQuentin Collins, Eddie Reese, Jamar Sandifer, Jared Sam and Patrick Smith.

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Illinois vs. Southern — BTN Plus, 7 p.m.

Illinois probably marked down the following as "things to avoid" tonight against Southern. The loss to Eastern Illinois — at least the second half — featured too much one-on-one action, some hero ball and not enough playing as a team. That was the word from redshirt junior Michael Finke at least.

"We’ve got a total different mindset right now," redshirt sophomore Kipper Nichols said. "It’s been tough. We’ve been getting after it. More attention to detail. You always play with a controlled rage. Coming off that last game, it didn’t sit well with us. Our mindset this week is to go in (today) and take care of business. 

"I don’t believe it was effort. I think we sustained effort for the most part throughout the game. I think attention to detail. All the little stuff that you’ve got to control throughout the game as a team was the big thing for us."

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Illinois vs. Southern — BTN Plus, 7 p.m.

The smattering of fans here so far at State Farm Center sent me to Twitter. It made me curious to see what kind of buzz there is for this game. You'd think ... first basketball game since March, new coach, what appeared to be a general excitment for hoops that a typically late-arriving Illinois crowd might buck that trend. Sounds like plenty of good seats are still available.

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Illinois vs. Southern — BTN Plus, 7 p.m.

While Michael Finke called this week's practices intense following last Friday's charity exhibition loss to Eastern Illinois, Brad Underwood certainly enjoyed himself. Some tough practices this week? A great thing in Underwood's estimation.

"Practice was about working on some things, trying to correct some things, showing a lot of film," Underwood said. "Mark (Smith) had not been real good previously in the prior scrimmage (against Vanderbilt), but worked his tail off and has been off the charts since. I think Te’Jon (Lucas) has been tremendous this week in practice. I’m excited about how those guys have bounced back."

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Illinois vs. Southern — BTN Plus, 7 p.m.

Now you can listen to the same pregame playlist that Illinois coach Brad Underwood apparently has on for gameday. A little heavy on the Thomas Rhett for me, but I ride for Bruno Mars and Boston.

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Illinois vs. Southern — BTN Plus, 7 p.m.

A couple quick notes/observations to get us started here ...

— News-Gazette Media has a pair of social media activities ongoing. Tim Ditman has taken over the N-G Snapchat (search news-gazette), and you can follow Ed Bond (@EdIllini) for more behind the scenes.

— It's a color rush matchup tonight at State Farm Center. Illinois is in its orange alternates. Southern is wearing its road sky blue option (with yellow accents). Probably best this is a BTN Plus matchup. High defintion on a large flat screen might make for some painful viewing.

— I promise I won't try and make a reference to Eastern Illinois every LIVE! Report, but I can tonight so I will. Southern assistant coach Chrys Cornelius is a former EIU assistant (during the Mike Miller era).

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Well here we are almost seven months later. The last LIVE! Report of the 2016-17 season signed off in Orlando. Illinois had just lost to Central Florida in the NIT quarterfinals. Jamall Walker was the interim coach — just a few days removed from John Groce's firing and Brad Underwood's hiring.

The Underwood era tips off here in an hour, and that's not the only change. The players are mostly different, too. A senior class led by Malcolm Hill has graduated. Jalen Coleman-Lands (DePaul) and D.J. Williams (George Washington) transferred. Two 2017 signed recruits — Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett — flipped to Missouri. 

In their place? Underwood landed 2017 Illinois Mr. Basketball Mark Smith. Then signed big men Greg Eboigbodin and Matic Vesel before bringing on graduate transfer guard Mark Alstork.

So that catches us up. Illinois will open the 2017-18 season at 7 p.m. against Southern right here at State Farm Center. Beat writer Scott Richey (that's, as always, me) will be with you leading up to and during the game before hammering out all the Illini coverage you'll need for Saturday's News-Gazette and right here at IlliniHQ.com.

Before all that, though, a little more catching up from the past week of Illinois basketball ...

Lineups: Illini vs. Jaguars

From exhibition loss to ... 

Preview video with Kipper Nichols, Michael Finke and Te'Jon Lucas

Preview video with Brad Underwood

Ayo Dosunmu big piece to Illini puzzle

Signing day video with Underwood

Who will step up for the Illini?

Dubious start to Underwood era with exhibition loss

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