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Wake Forest Hands Illini Men First Loss 80-73

Wake Forest guard Bryant Crawford squares up for a three-pointer while Illini freshman Mark Smith defends in Illinois' 80-73 loss on Tuesday.

Wake Forest guard Bryant Crawford squares up for a three-pointer while Illini freshman Mark Smith (13) defends in Illinois' 80-73 loss on Tuesday. Rob McColley/Illinois Public Media

The Illini men's basketball team lost for the first time this season Tuesday night to Wake Forest 80-73 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Wake Forest employed a zone defense which forced the Illini to shoot from outside, and shut down the Illinois interior game, according to coach Illini Brad Underwood.

"We're a really good three-point shooting team, so I've got no problem with our guys shooting threes," Underwood said after the game. "What we didn't do was do a very good job of getting the ball early to the short corner or the high post, and that's what we talk about all the time."

Aaron Jordan continued his torrid long-distance shooting, connecting on 4-6 three-pointers and finishing with a game-high 20 points. Bryant Crawford also scored 20 for the Demon Deacons.

Jordan's contribution was especially important because of Illinois' foul trouble. The Illini were cited with eight of the first nine personal fouls assessed in the game, sending starters Michael Finke and Te'Jon Lucas to the bench for the majority of the first half. 

Jordan was stoic about the foul disparity.

"That's just basically next man up. That's the game. That's what's going to happen," Jordan said. "That's part of basketball, and you reiterate to everybody else 'next man up, and let's get the job done.'"

Doral Moore, Mitchell Welbekin and Brandon Childress all added a dozen points for Wake Forest. Kipper Nichols scored 14 for Illinois, and Leron Black 10 on 3-12 shooting. Black led all rebounders with seven total.

Illini Da'Monte Williams (20) and Aaron Jordan (23) look on as Michael Finke (43) fouls Wake Forest's Keyshawn Woods in an 80-73 loss Tuesday night.

Photo Credit: Rob McColley/Illinois Public Media

The Illini outrebounded the Deacons 39-25, but also out-fouled Wake 24-13.  Underwood said the fouls, combined with Illinois' 19 turnovers, were the difference in the game.

"We had a bad stretch in the first half. We had three straight turnovers, and we took two quick shots without getting the ball to the interior of the zone," Underwood said. "You combine those five turnovers, and that leads to a run. Wake's a veteran team, and they've got guys who made plays. Combine that with the fouls we committed in the backcourt, and it was a parade to the free throw line."

The Demon Deacons shot 24-31 on free throws, while Illinois attempted just 14 shots from the free throw line, making 13.

Wake Forest improves to 3-4 on the season. Illinois drops to 6-1.

The Illini return to action this weekend with a pair of unusually early Big Ten conference games against Northwestern and Maryland. Both of those teams also lost in this week's Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Terrapins fell at Syracuse, while the Wildcats lost on a last-second layup at Georgia Tech.

Friday's game between Northwestern and Illinois will tip at 8 p.m., at the Allstate Arena, in Rosemont.