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Finke’s double-double leads Illinois past D-III Augustana

Illinois is now 5-0 under Brad Underwood.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Illinois vs Michigan Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

He’s said it for years: shooters shoot.

And that’s exactly what junior forward Michael Finke did.

The junior’s 20 points and 10 rebounds led the Illinois Fighting Illini to a 96-62 victory over the Division III Augustana Vikings.

Finke’s confidence was very evident in the game, shooting 7-of-11 from the field and 3-of-6 from beyond-the-arc.

“Felt pretty good, first half obviously I felt the three ball was working,” Finke said. “Just having confidence, I know the coaches have confidence in me. Second half, started rebounding and that’s what I think got me more in the flow of the game.”

Illini starters set the tone

After having bench players like Kipper Nichols headline for the Illini their last couple of games, the starters came out and dominated the first half. They scored 46 of Illinois’ 51 first half points.

Finke hit his three shots from deep for 11 points in the opening frame.

Black led all scorers at the break with 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting. Smith wasn’t too far behind. Some impressive finishes around the rim assisted the freshmen in his 10 first-half points.

Senior guard Mark Alstork had his best half of basketball since opening night versus Southern. He started off the game 3-of-5 from the field (2-of-3 from three) for eight points.

“We got off to a good start and making shots helped,” Underwood said. “We’re starting to see productivity coming from a lot of different places. A lot of weapons and shots went down.”

Illinois finally starting to connect from deep

The Illini went 7-of-15 from three-point land against Marshall last Sunday. They continued to stroke it from deep Wednesday night, hitting 10 of their 24 attempts (7-of-14 in the first half).

Aaron Jordan did not miss a single long ball (4-of-4) he attempted on the night. Finke tallied on three makes and Alstork went 2-of-3 from the three-point line.

“We shared the ball a lot,” Jordan said. “Everybody moving, running offense, finding each other that are open, that’s what we have to do.”

Shooting was a common issue for Illinois teams during the John Groce era, and it was a common question during the offseason how quickly Underwood could turn around the team’s woes.

Underwood silenced those critics, though, Wednesday night.

“I’ve not worried one second about us shooting three’s,” Underwood said. “I think it was a matter of us shooting them in rhythm and shooting the shots that we practiced and were in flow.”

Defense leads to offense for Illinois

Illinois’ defense was suffocating Augustana and forced 29 turnovers — leading to 29 Illinois points.

“I thought we were pretty aggressive,” Underwood said. “And by playing that way, our best perimeter defense becomes our best post defense.”

Freshman guard Trent Frazier had a tremendous defensive game, playing great on-ball defense and collected four steals.

Aaron Jordan and Te’Jon Lucas — who are arguably had one of the best games of the season with four points, three rebounds and six assists with only one turnover — both had two steals a piece.

The Illini were struggling on the glass, however, getting almost bested by the Vikings, 35-32.

What’s next

Illinois has Thanksgiving off to watch football, eat turkey and get yelled at by Brad Underwood before hosting North Carolina Central at State Farm Center on Friday night.

Friday’s game is Illinois’ last home game for nine days as the team finally hits the road for tests at Wake Forest and Northwestern.

“We got exactly out of that what we thought we would get out of that,” Underwood said. “We saw a very good basketball team, great discipline.”