WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WCIA) — We knew this week, and Illinois’ game at Wake Forest in particular, would be a litmus test for the Illini. And it’s safe to say after Tuesday’s loss, we learned a lot about this Illinois men’s basketball team.
The Illini (6-1) roared out of the gates taking an early 9-point lead over Wake Forest. But midway through the first half the Demon Deacons (3-4) went on a 21-8 run. Kipper Nichols hit a 3-pointer with 9 seconds left in the half to cut it to one.
“The game is about runs,” Illinois junior Aaron Jordan said. “We’re going to make runs, they’re going to make runs, that’s just how it is. We’ve got to learn how to counter what they do and clean up our mistakes.”
A little more than five minutes into the second, Wake took its biggest lead of the game at 10. Illinois fought back and had the ball with a chance to tie it multiple times but could never get the shot to fall.
“Down eight or nine, ten points a few times and AJ hits a couple threes, making plays on the defensive end, we just kept coming back and kept fighting and we were right there,” Illinois junior Michael Finke said.
“I loved our fight,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said. “I loved our fight. I liked our numbers, other than the second half field goal percentage for them.”
The legend of Aaron Jordan continues into December now. The guard set a career high with 20 points in Tuesday’s loss.
“AJ’s not leading the country in three point field goal shooting for nothing,” Underwood said. “He’s a good shooter and I thought we did a good job of trying to find him.”
“Every time he shoots it we think it’s going in,” Finke said. “And if it doesn’t go in we’re shocked so just keep feeding him the ball and let him shoot it up there and we all have faith in him and want him to shoot it as much as he can.”
Now it’s on to two early Big Ten games. At Northwestern on Friday, then hosting Maryland on Sunday. Illinois needs to win one of those to feel good about the rest of the non-conference schedule, with only one game remaining (Missouri) against a ‘Power 5’ team.