Illinois pulls away from N.C. Central in second half
Stinging after taking a one-point deficit into the halftime locker room, Illinois rallied to earn an 86-73 win over North Carolina Central on Friday night in Champaign, Ill.
Junior forward Michael Finke led the way with 22 points and junior guard Aaron Jordan added 16 points on 6 of 7 shooting for Illinois (6-0). The Illini won all four of their games in the Global Sports Invitational, a five-team round-robin in which they were the only power-conference participant.
Freshman guard Reggie Gardner, Jr., led NCCU (2-5) with 18 points. Senior forward Pablo Rivas added 11 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out for the MEAC school seeking its first win in 12 tries against a Big Ten institution.
The Eagles reached the first media timeout tied with the Illini, but the hosts put on a 14-0 burst to briefly restore order. Finke buried a jumper and back-to-back 3-pointers before sophomore forward Kipper Nichols and Jordan hit 3-pointers to give Illinois an 18-6 lead at the 11:00 mark.
NCCU frustrated the Illini with its zone defense and ability to attack the glass. While Illinois missed its final nine 3-point attempts of the first half, the Eagles claimed a 35-34 lead at the break as Gardner, Jr., hit a 3-pointer just before the horn.
Three of Illinois’ usual double-figure scorers — junior forward Leron Black (13 points), Jordan and Nichols — had to sit for extended minutes in the first half due to foul trouble while a fourth double-figure scorer, freshman guard Mark Smith, didn’t score in the opening 20 minutes and finished with three points.
Finke and Jordan asserted themselves after the break as Illinois quickly regained the lead. Jordan opened the half with a 3-pointer, Finke canned two 3-pointers and threw down a dunk and Jordan nailed another 3 to push Illinois to a 50-41 lead at the 15:29 mark.
Jordan was whistled for his fourth foul at the 10:18 mark. He left with 16 points and Illinois holding a 65-52 advantage, but the Eagles couldn’t make up any ground.