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Illinois 86, NC Central 73: What we learned

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Illinois improves to 6-0 after recovering from a poor first half.

NCAA Basketball: DePaul at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois trailed for the first time all season at halftime tonight to N.C. Central, 35-34. The Illini shot poorly in the first half and were executing their offense well.

That all changed after halftime. Illinois shot lights out in the second half including 6-12 from three point range and cruised to a 86-73 win and a 6-0 record.

1. Michael Finke fell in love with the three. Finally.

Michael Finke had his second-straight 20-plus point game for the Illini. He put up 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting along with 5-of-11 shooting from three point range. Finke has been timid at times to shoot the three, but tonight he showcased his full confidence in his shooting stroke to get 15 of his points from long-range.

Having a big man who can shoot like this is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, but, more importantly, it helps improve the floor spacing for the Illinois offense, which is a huge advantage.

Oh and PSA.

2. Aaron Jordan is a shooter now

Before this season, Aaron Jordan shot 28-of-84 from three-point range — a respectable, but not good, 33 percent clip.

That number has jumped up to 65.2 percent (15-of-23) this season, a remarkable uptick for a player who was seen as a disappointment to many Illini fans.

Off the bench, Jordan has been a fantastic sixth man, producing 11.8 points per game. He has been incredibly effective as well. His effective field goal percentage — (FG + 0.5 *3P) / FGA, this statistic adjust for three-point shots being worth more than two-point shots — is a huge 89.7 percent. Eighty-nine point seven. That’s insane.

Aaron Jordan has become one of the best, if not the best, shooter on this team. A really great story early on for the Illini.

3. Rebounding a slight concern, but not as bad as you think

Illinois trailed 35-34 at the break, and many were pointing to the Illini’s poor rebounding as the issue. N.C. Central beat Illinois on the boards, 17-12, after the first 20 minutes.

But this wasn’t as bad as it seems on the surface. In the first half N.C. Central only missed 9 field goals and 3 free throws for a total of 12 misses. Illinois had 9 rebounds off these 12 misses, a rate of 75 percent, which is not too bad.

In total, Illinois had 23 missed field goals and free throws. N.C. Central grabbed 14 of these at a rate of 60.8 percent. You could argue that Illinois actually outrebounded NC Central in the first half as they had a better defensive rebounding rate and more offensive rebounds than NC Central.

Remember stats don’t lie, but stats mislead. Stats need proper context.

The reason Illinois was losing the game and the rebounding battle was the poor shooting and execution on the offensive end. Illinois was 12-of-31 shooting in the first half.

4. Fantastic ball movement once again

Illinois had 20 assists on 28 made field goals. That again shows how unselfish this team is and how good the ball movement for Illinois has been early.

Te’Jon Lucas had 6 assists tonight and 6 on Wednesday night, and he has been the best playmaker on the team. Also, while Mark Alstork isn’t scoring at the rate he and the team would like, he is providing a solid 3.33 assists per game.

When a team can move the ball with multiple playmakers like Illinois can, said team is tough to stop on defense.

The Illini will be back in action on Tuesday night. They will play their first road game of the year in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge against a struggling Wake Forest (2-4). The game will be aired Tuesday on ESPNU at 8 pm.