Beggars can’t be choosers, so, after three close games that resulted in losses for the Illini, winning is all that matters. Right?
The fact the win was uglier than a Pontiac Aztek? The fact Illinois had to scratch and claw to beat Austin Peay? Maybe those beggars are feeling a little selective. No one really wanted to see Illinois (7-3, 0-2) just eking out a 64-57 win over the Governors (4-5), after all.
What Illinois (7-3, 0-2) and Austin Peay did on Wednesday was technically basketball, but it was some of the ugliest, sloppiest, most boring basketball either team could have played. The Illini set new low-water marks for the season with the fewest points (previous low, 68 vs. Northwestern), lowest points per possession (.821; previous low .975 vs. UT-Martin), most turnovers (25; previous high 19 vs. Wake Forest and Northwestern), and fewest made threes (2; previous low 3 vs. Northwestern). The Governors even led for a majority of the game, holding a lead for nearly 22 minutes.
Fans were literally sleeping in the stands.
If there’s a silver lining, maybe it’s that it could have been worse? Consider what Illinois would be without its few experienced players. Leron Black came through in the clutch for the Illini against the Governors with 16 points, including 6/8 from the free throw line. It was Black’s seventh straight game with at least 10 points and 9th of 10 this this year. Likewise, Michael Finke had a return to form after a string of off games, chipping in 17 points on 7/12 shooting and adding 8 rebounds, 4 each on offense and defense. Somehow, his offensive rating of 98 (points per 100 possessions) was second on the team (behind Kipper Nichols' 108) on Wednesday.
As much as the Illini needed the redshirt juniors, though, Illinois would most lost without junior Aaron Jordan. No one outside maybe Brad Underwood and Mama and Papa Jordan expected AJ to have improved quite so much this season, but he has been nothing short of a revelation so far. Jordan has been good for 11.6 points per game, or, more impressively 22.7 points per 40 minutes, OR, still more impressively, 153 points per 100 possessions (offensive rating).
He has hung around the top of the leaderboard for three point shooting percentage and true shooting percentage all year long (still first in true shooting after the Austin Peay game, but no longer top 20 in three point percentage). It's his shooting that is keeping Illinois from bottoming out, as seen in the graphic below.
Simply, Illinois would not have the offense to compete with the likes of Austin Peay without Jordan.
Which, actually, was the case on Wednesday. Jordan played 24 minutes but laid an egg on the court. He scored no points for the first time this year, including 0/2 from three, having previously scored at least 7 points and reaching double figures in 7 of 9 games. He did not add much outside scoring, either, with 1 rebound, 2 turnovers, and 2 personal fouls in his time on the floor.
It was a game to forget for Jordan and for just about every other Illini, too. Underwood may just want to throw away the game film on this one. But it still counts in the win column, so anyone begging for a win is probably not asking for anything else.