CHAMPAIGN — It was a proud and excited contingent of fans who drove from the Quad Cities area to see Augustana try to play David to Illinois’ Goliath on Wednesday night.
They wandered wide-eyed around the State Farm Center, which seats 15,544, slightly larger than Augie’s cozy Roy J. Carver Center, which tops out at about 1,900.
There was nothing to lose for a very talented Augustana team ranked No. 2 nationally in Division III and the plan was simple: Slay Goliath, wash victory down with a plate of turkey and gravy Thursday and they’d have a storybook holiday to brag about for years to come.
Trouble was, Illinois picked this night to find its missing 3-point accuracy. And Augustana picked the same night to toss a variety of passes into the waiting hands of Goliath.
The storybook result will have to wait. The Illini moved to 5-0 on the season with a 96-62 victory.
Michael Finke, one of five Illini players scoring in double figures, led the way with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Leron Black scored all of his 15 points in the first half. Mark Smith added 13. Aaron Jordan was 4-for-4 from 3-point range and scored 12. And Trent Frazier scored 10 points.
Those who didn’t reach double figures contributed, too. Te’Jon Lucaas had six assists and one turnover and Mark Alstork had eight points, five assists and two blocked shots.
Augustana showed flashes of the kind of quality play that put it in the Division III national championship game last season. But 29 turnovers was a crippling total.
“We got exactly out of that what I thought we’d get,” Illini coach Brad Underwood said. “They were a very disciplined, very well-coached team with a plan. In retrospect, I’m very pleased with the way we played defensively.
“We took some passes away, forced some back cuts and our rotations were much better.”
As for the shooting, Illinois came into the game having made just 22 of 80 3-pointers, 27.5 percent. But the Illini hit 10 of 24 for 41.7 percent and Underwood was not surprised. He has said all along it was just a matter of time.
“I have not worried for one second about making 3s,” Underwood said. “It was a matter of us shooting them in rhythm and taking shots we practice and in flow. The shots we took tonight, we practice those.
“Before, we were shooting 3s out of rhythm on plays that were broken. The game doesn’t treat you right when you don’t play it right and we’re playing better now. Today we took what was there and we were making them.”
Illinois jumped on Augustana (3-1) early. When Finke hit his second 3-pointer at the 16:48 mark, the lead was 11-4. Black stepped back and swished a 3 to start a 10-0 Illini run that included a basket by Alstork on an assist from Black, a 3-pointer by Alstork on an assist from Lucas and a rebound basket by Smith after Finke missed a shot.
By then it was 21-9 and Augustana already had five turnovers.
A 3-point play by Finke and a pair of free throws by Lucas concluded the first-half scoring and sent Illinois to the locker room with a 51-30 lead.
When Illinois started the second half with five quick fouls, Underwood went ballistic and yanked four of his starters. In came Jordan, who promptly nailed consecutive 3-pointers to give the Illini a 59-36 lead that seemed to restore Underwood’s blood pressure to an acceptable level.
Guard Dylan Sortillo led Augustana with 18 points.
Underwood and Finke each remember when Illinois lost an exhibition game at Eastern Illinois and Finke failed to grab a rebound.
That Finke pulled down 10 rebounds against Augustana certainly caught Underwood’s attention.
“Now that I know he’s capable of a double-double, I’ll expect that every night,” Underwood said.
Illinois will practice Thursday, share a Thanksgiving meal, then return to the State Farm Center at 6:30 p.m. Friday to take on North Carolina Central.
Then the schedule gets significantly tougher with games Tuesday at Wake Forest, Dec. 1 vs. Northwestern in Rosemont and Dec. 3 at home against Maryland.