Unbeaten Illini stay hungry

Unbeaten Illini stay hungry

CHAMPAIGN — Remember when Illinois was three times as likely to miss a three-pointer as hit from deep? Cold shooting from beyond the arc permeated the Illini's first four games of the season.

Wednesday night it saved them.

Illinois shot 50 percent from three-point range in the first half with closer attempts not falling at nearly the same consistency. Missed layups can be glaring.

It was a pair of Aaron Jordan three-pointers early in the second half — with four of the Illini starters on the bench after a lackluster start — that cut into Augustana's building momentum and sent the Illini back in the right direction.

The Illini finished the game 10 of 24 from deep and topped the Division III Vikings 96-62 in front of an announced State Farm Center crowd of 10,404 on Thanksgiving Eve.

"We've come out really flat, really slow," said Illinois redshirt junior forward Michael Finke, who finished the game with 20 points and 10 rebounds. "We've got to get that addressed right away. ... We called a timeout, got some subs in and the subs came in off the bench and got things rolling for us."

Enter Jordan.

His pair of three-pointers early in the second half were a difference maker. Jordan has been the most consistent Illini from three-point range this season and added to that by going 4 of 4 against Augustana for all 12 of his points. Five games in, the 6-foot-5 junior guard's play is a pattern, not an anomaly.

"AJ just does the simple things," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. "We ask him to run, he runs. He gets to the corner. Those are threes we practice, and he makes them."

Underwood has repeatedly said he hasn't been worried about his team's three-point shooting despite low percentages to start the season. Wednesday's 41.7 percent shooting came with better offense.

"It was a matter of us shooting them in rhythm and shooting the shots we practice and are in flow," Underwood said. "We were shooting threes off of out-of-rhythm plays that were broken. The ball doesn't go in that way. The game doesn't treat you right when you don't play it right."

Now, the Illini have to repeat that type of performance.

"We shared the ball a lot, I'd say, with everybody moving and running the offense and finding people who were open," Jordan said. "That's what we have to do. ... We're in a tough league. People making shots is important."

What happened

If anything, Wednesday night's victory against Augustana proved good feelings at halftime can be erased in a hurry with a disjointed, ineffective start to the second half. Illinois' second unit, however, kept things from falling apart and got the Illini lead back to "blowout" levels.

What it means

Illinois beat Augustana like it should have. While the Illini struggled rebounding against the Vikings through two thirds of the game — more than a bit concerning — it's nothing compared to if Illinois would have actually lost to a Division III team on its own court.

What's next

The Illini (5-0) stay on the one-day prep schedule with Friday's 6:30 p.m. game against North Carolina Central at State Farm Center. An NCAA tournament team a year ago from the MEAC, the Eagles (2-4) lost 92-84 at Marshall on Wednesday night.

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Moonpie wrote on November 23, 2017 at 9:11 am

Feasting on the Little Sisters of the Poor, that is.

But the real games are coming.