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No Black, no Nichols, no problem for Illinois against Longwood

The Illini bounced back easily against the Lancers, 92-45.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Northwestern Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

On a night where Illinois was missing junior Leron Black and sophomore Kipper Nichols, the Illini came together to trounce Longwood at home, 92-45.

Junior Aaron Jordan notched a career-high 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting and 4-of-8 shooting from deep. Jordan also added eight rebounds, seven of which were on the offensive glass.

Freshman Trent Frazier also recorded a career-high in points with 20. Junior Michael Finke was not farther behind, tallying 19 points and seven rebounds.

Start cold, get hot, get even hotter

After starting off 0-of-7 from beyond-the-arc, the Illini (8-4) hit six straight from downtown to aid them on a 11-0 run and run out to a 32-20 lead with 7:34 left in the first half. Both Jordan and Frazier had knocked down a pair of shots from deep at that point.

Illinois did not take its foot off the gas, even after cooling down from three. The Illini continued to dominate all aspects of the game and went on a 36-9 run to shoot up to a 50-24 lead at halftime.

The Illini were forced to play small-ball against Jayson Gee’s Lancers, something that was new to this team.

“It’s definitely different than what we’re used to,” Finke said. “I thought we did well, spaced the floor, shots were falling, a lot of assists. I thought we played good basketball.”

Finke, Frazier and Jordan shined in the first half.

Finke led all scorers with 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting (2-of-4 from three) at half. Frazier continued to give energy off the bench 10 points (2-of-3 from deep) and Jordan, in his first start of the season, ironically had the same line as Frazier at the break.

Head coach Brad Underwood was not afraid to go with some new lineups against the Lancers, as well. Slovenian freshman Matic Vesel saw five minutes in the first half alongside the normal rotational players and made his first career bucket with a putback tip-in.

Fan-favorite Drew Cayce even saw minutes in the first half.

A second half was still in need of being played, and no, Longwood obviously did not pull off one of the greatest comebacks the State Farm Center has ever seen. As a matter of fact, Illinois went on a 16-0 run to jump up 75-31 on Longwood with 11:26 remaining in the game, en route to the 47-point win.

Frazier electric off the bench

Frazier had a coming out party against UNLV last Saturday when he scored 16 points. Many Illini fans got excited for him after that performance, and Frazier continued to show them why they should be against Longwood.

In 26 minutes of action, Frazier had all the time he wanted to go out and continue to grow in Underwood’s system.

“It doesn’t matter where, who, the moment, (the freshman) are getting into that moment, and that’s a pretty special place and with that comes a lot of confidence,” Underwood said.

It’s not only the instant offense Frazier is bringing off the bench either. It’s his pestering, consistent defense that he is bringing on the other end, which is allowing him to blossom.

Frazier recorded four steals on Wednesday.

“He sees plays now that he wasn’t seeing two weeks ago,” Underwood said. “He has unique speed, he has tremendous quickness, and now when you throw his anticipation in there, he can do things some other guys can’t.”

Replacing Black and Nichols

With Black and Nichols sidelined with injuries, the Illini were going to need an all-around team effort to make up for their absence.

Vesel and fellow freshman Greg Eboigbodin were going to be looked upon to fill that void.

“I thought they both brought energy off the bench,” Finke said. “That’s what we’re going to need.”

Eboigbodin checked into the game early on and finished with two points and three boards over 13 minutes. Vesel checked in minutes after Eboigbodin and scored his first-career points.

Vesel also played 13 minutes and scored two points and grabbed two boards.

A group effort on the glass was also in need for this game, and the Illini did just that. Illinois outrebounded Longwood 52-23, and Underwood’s team had more offensive rebounds than defensive (27-25).

“It’s the next-man-up mentality,” Underwood said. “I really challenged our perimeter players to do that.”

What’s next

Illinois has a short turnaround before heading to the United Center for a marquee matchup with New Mexico State on Saturday night in Chicago. The Illini will then have a week off before driving a few hours the other way to the Braggin’ Rights game versus Missouri in St. Louis.

Former Illinois and New Mexico State head coach Lou Henson will be honored at the game.