LIVE! North Carolina Central

LIVE! North Carolina Central

CHAMPAIGN — Michael Finke hit the 20-point barrier for the second straight game, leading Illinois to an 86-73 victory against North Carolina Central on Friday night at State Farm Center with a game-high 22 points. 

Three more Illini finished in double figures in the 13-point win. Aaron Jordan was 4 of 5 from three-point range for 16 points, while Kipper Nichols (14 points) and Leron Black (12) rounded out Illinois' top scorers.

Be sure to check out Saturday's News-Gazette and right here at IlliniHQ.com for more from the Illinois victory.

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Illinois 82, North Carolina Central 67 — 3:18 left in 2nd half

There's less time remaining now than when Illinois gave away the entirety of its 13-point lead in the first half. So it's less likely N.C. Central chips away at all of its current 15-point deficit. Still, the Illini would behoove themselves by finishing better than they're currently playing right now. Especially since the Eagles are still shooting 48.8 percent. 

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Illinois 61, North Carolina Central 48 — 12:30 left in 2nd half

The Illini needed somebody to play better at the start of the second half. They got a few somebodies. Michael Finke and Aaron Jordan keep hitting three-pointers, and Kipper Nichols has made some hustle plays (the kind Brad Underwood wants him to make all the time).

But, honestly ... raise your hand if you thought Jordan was going to be one of Illinois' top scorers so far this season. Nobody? That seems right. But all he's done is make plays. Jordan and Finke also took a charge apiece so far. The Illini veterans are getting the job done, while their freshmen play, well, like freshmen.

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North Carolina Central 35, Illinois 34 — Halftime

Reggie Gardner Jr. hit a three-pointer from the corner with 6 seconds to play in the half, giving North Carolina Central the halftime lead. After Illinois led by as many as 13 with 8:37 to play before the break. So ... not ideal.

After the second-to-last media timeout of the half (at 7:51), N.C. Central has outscored Illinois 23-11. The Eagles were 6 of 9 from the field in that time, while the Illini made just 3 of 10.

While N.C. Central finished the half with more turnovers and fouls than Illinois, the Eagles also out-rebounded the Illini 17-12. That's the no-no of  all no-nos for Brad Underwood.

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Illinois 28, North Carolina Central 24 — 3:46 left in 1st

North Carolina Central is on an 8-0 run, with Illinois not scoring for the last 2 minutes, 15 seconds. The Illini just look entirely out of sorts on the offensive end. Not getting good looks. Struggling to simply hang on to the ball sometimes. Shooting 42.3 percent. That's neither good nor terrible, but the fact N.C. Central is shooting 50 percent and cutting into the Illini lead despite the Eagles' propensity to turn it over themselves isn't great for Brad Underwood's squad.

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Illinois 23, North Carolina Central 12 — 7:51 left in 1st

So it's looking like Wednesday's three-point shooting was not a fluke. Illinois is 5 of 10 from beyond the arc so far against N.C. Central, and four Illini have hit from deep. While Michael Finke is 2 of 5, Kipper Nichols, Trent Frazier and Aaron Jordan have taken one three-pointer apiece and made it.

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Illinois 15, North Carolina Central 6 — 11:44 left in 1st

An aggressive Michael Finke? Yeah, that's a good thing for Illinois. The redshirt junior forward went on an 8-0 run of his own (hitting two three-pointers in the process) to give the Illini a lead. He didn't get the heat check to fall, but it was a shot he should shoot each and every time presented the opportunity.

Meanwhile, N.C. Central already has seven fouls and seven turnovers. Four (if I remember correctly) were tied together with offensive fouls an issue for the Eagles.

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Illinois vs. North Carolina Central — 6:30 p.m., BTN+

The crowds for the last three games have been better than I expected considering Illinois students are not on campus. With about 15 minutes until tipoff here at State Farm Center for Illini-Eagles, it sort of feels like a slightly smaller crowd than the DePaul, Marshall and Augustana games. Of course, maybe the late-arriving Illini crowd will ... arrive late.

These fans are already here:

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Illinois vs. North Carolina Central — 6:30 p.m., BTN+

Illinois' rebounding struggles in the first half against Augustana certainly weren't helped by Leron Black having zero rebounds in the first 20 minutes of the game. Black is probably the Illini's best rebounder. Or, they at least need him to be. 

"It probably shows Kipper’s importance to us playing 5 minutes and having two fouls," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. "The fact is he’s been very, very good on the boards for us."

Illinois' nine-man rotation is still playing similar minutes, with all of them falling somewhere 16.4 and 25.8 minutes per game.

"We’re starting to see productivity come from a lot of different places," Underwood said. "Maybe that means we’re growing and we’re becoming a pretty solid and deeper basketball team."

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Illinois vs. North Carolina Central — 6:30 p.m., BTN+

Illinois put up 96 points in Wednesday's win against Division III Augustana. The first thing Brad Underwood brought up about the Illini after the 34-point victory? (Hint: It wasn't their offense).

"We got exactly out of that what I thought we’d get out of that," Underwood said after the win. "We saw a very good basketball team — very discipled, very committed and very well coached. They had a plan. In retrospect, I’m very pleased with the way we played defensively.

"I thought the first half Trent Frazier and Te’Jon (Lucas) were very, very good on the ball, and it allowed our guys to get in line and take some passes away and force some back cuts. Our rotations were much better."

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Illinois vs. North Carolina Central — 6:30 p.m., BTN+

— Once again, tonight's game is NOT televised. The (subscription only) stream on BTN Plus is the only option. Never fear, Illinois fans. The next eight games on the schedule are all on real TV networks. The only other BTN Plus game is Dec. 30 against Grand Canyon.

— Illinois is wearing its gray/silver alternates for the first time this season, while N.C. Central is rocking an all maroon look. While I only got a couple replies when I tweeted about the Illini's jersey/shorts combo, it wasn't an enthused response.

But let's be honest, the silver alternates don't have that zig zag pattern down the side, so they're already better than the rebranded look. Illinois fans are not, well, fans of that look. Hey Nike, got something else?

— N.C. Central's top two scorers did not play for the Eagles last season. That's what happens when you ride what's essentially a "seniors only" rotation to the NCAA tournament. Raasean Davis (16.8 ppg) sat out last season after transferring from Kent State, and Reggie Gardner Jr. (10 ppg) is a freshman.

— The trend continues. I've never heard of any of the three officials (Glen Mayborg, Rob Kueneman and Brandon Cruz) working tonight's game. 

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Another Illinois basketball game, another LIVE! Report from courtside at State Farm Center. Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving and that the tryptophan wore off. There's basketball to watch. 

The Illini (5-0) are back in action with their sixth straight home game — this time against North Carolina Central. While Illinois hasn't ventured outside of Champaign yet this season, the Eagles (2-4) made their way to C-U from Huntington, W.Va., following their loss to Marshall on Wednesday. They're also played in Chicago, Evansville, Ind., and Martin, Tenn., so far this season.

But that's the life of low major Division I teams. It's basically have players, will travel. At least North Carolina Central got a couple of home games in before playing the Thundering Herd on Thanksgiving Eve. Mike Davis' Texas Southern team is five games into 13 straight games on the road, and — while this is off topic of tonight's game — the Tigers have played a ridiculous schedule (Gonzaga, Washington State, Ohio State, Syracuse and Kansas so far).

Anyway, back to tonight's game. Illinois is the clear favorite. Even though North Carolina Central made it to the NCAA tournament a year ago, this is not that team. We'll dive into that more later.

With tipoff an hour away, make sure to catch up on all things Illini basketball from this week so far:

Lineups, storylines and a pick from the beat writer

Finke using EIU loss as motivation

Postgame video with Brad Underwood after beating Augustana

And more postgame video from Finke and Aaron Jordan

Threes were falling, bench came through in Wednesday's win

Kipper Nichols = Jimmy Butler? Plus more Illini hoops notes

How the Illini graded out vs. Augustana

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