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Illini Men Remain Unbeaten, Top NC Central 86-73

Illini forward Michael Finke slams home two of his 22 points in an 86-73 win over NC Central Friday night in Champaign.

Illini forward Michael Finke slams home two of his 22 points in an 86-73 win over NC Central Friday night in Champaign. Rob McColley/Illinois Public Media

The Illini men's basektball team beat North Carolina Central 86-73 Friday night in Champaign. Michael Finke scored a game-high 22 points and grabbed six rebounds. Aaron Jordan added 16 points for Illinois, shooting 4-5 from three-point range.

But Coach Brad Underwood credited sophomore point guard Te'Jon Lucas for the win. After a lackluster first half in which the visiting Eagles rallied from a 13-point deficit to take the lead, Lucas grabbed the leadership mantle.

"He took complete control, he took control of the locker room," Underwood said after the game. "I didn't have to do anything x's and o's wise. And I just told our coaching staff, 'We'll all find out who will lead, and we'll all find out who will fight. If we want to keep accepting getting whipped, then we'll get whipped. At some point, there's got to be some pride.' Te'Jon was driving that bus, and I was really excited to see that."

Reggie Gardner shot 5-7 on three-pointers and led the Eagles with 18 points. Zacarry Douglas, Pablo Rivas and Jordan Perkins all added 11 points. Rivas grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds before fouling out. The Eagles outrebounded the Illini 34-28. Overall, the officials assessed 53 personal fouls on the two teams.

Kipper NIchols added 14 points for Illinois. Leron Black scored 12 and grabbed a team-high 8 rebounds. 

Illini forward Michael Finke made 5-11 three-pointers in an 86-73 win over NC Central.

Photo Credit: Rob McColley/Illinois Public Media

The Illini shot 41-percent from three-point range, including 5-11 from Finke. Overall, Illinois was 28-62 from the floor, good for 45-percent. Underwood expressed displeasure about his team grabbing only nine offensive rebounds from those 34 misses.

NC Central surpassed the home team in both categories, shooting 6-of-10 from three-point range, and 48-percent from the floor. On the bright side for Illinois, they mirrored their opponents assist-to-turnover ratio. The Eagles assisted 10 times and lost possession 20 times. Illinois assisted on 20 of 28 made baskets, and committed just ten turnovers.

It's six wins in six home games for the Illini, whose schedule now shifts to major conference opponents on unfamiliar courts. Next week sees the Illini travel to Winston-Salem for an ACC-Big Ten Challenge game at Wake Forest.  That game tips at 8 p.m. CT on Tuesday night. The Illini will then face Northwestern in Rosemont next Friday in the Big Ten Conference opener for both schools.

The league is playing some conference games earlier than normal this season because of the Big Ten Tournament being played a week sooner than usual in March.