CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The result was never the big concern with the Augustana men's basketball team in its exhibition game against the University of Illinois on Wednesday.
It was all about the experience and the exposure to the Big Ten atmosphere.
However, the attention switched focus in a big way late in the first half of the Vikings' 96-62 setback.
With just 45-seconds left in the half, Pierson Wofford drove the left side to the hoop and was fouled. The junior stayed on Lou Henson court for an extended period of time and then had to be helped off. He was not able to put any pressure on his left leg as he was helped into the bowels of State Farm Center to be examined by Illinois team doctors.
Wofford said after the game that doctors diagnosed a torn ACL that will require surgery. It is the second straight season that he has suffered a major injury (broken jaw last fall before practices started) and the second season he has had his season cut short.
“It's a little tough,” said Wofford, who was leaving the arena on crutches. “I'm a big believer in God and God only gives the strongest people what he thinks they can handle. I'll be back. It's just another step on the mountain.”
It was a pretty big mountain the Vikings faced right from the start when they started the game in a seldom-used 2-3 zone and the Illini were not thrown off. Illinois, which scored the first eight points of the contest, hit seven of its first 10 3-pointers and raced to a double-digit lead just over seven minutes in.
“Brad (Illinois coach Brad Underwood) came into our lock room and said he prepared his team like it was an NCAA Tournament game,” Augie coach Grey Giovanine said. “We got their best shot.”
Two triples by Michael Finke (20 points) and another by Mark Alstork (eight points) gave the Illini an 11-4 lead. Another triple by reserve Aaron Jordan (12 points) and another from Finke spurred a 14-5 run that gave the hosts a 39-22 lead at the 5:30 mark.
By halftime, the Illini, who were 10-of-24 from 3-point range for the game, led 51-30 as their athleticism and ability to get the ball to the rim were too much.
The victory, which counted as a nonconference game for the Illini, moved them to 5-0 for the season -- the first such start since winning six in the 2014-15 season.
Augie was sloppy from the start, committing 29 turnovers, which was huge considering it shot 45.7 percent (21 of 46) from the field. The Vikings held a rebounding edge much of the game, but ended up losing the board battle 35-32.
“It wasn't that we weren't prepared,” said junior guard Nolan Ebel, who finished with eight points. “We just didn't execute the little things –- value the ball and execute our stuff.”
Senior Dylan Sortillo led Augie with 18 points and junior Chrishawn Orange added 10.
Five Illini finished in double figures along with Finke (10 rebounds) and Jordan. Starters Leron Black (15 points) and Mark Smith (13) also cracked double-digits. Reserve Trent Frazier finished with 10.
While Wofford's injury hung heavy afterward, the Vikings were still thrilled with the opportunity to play a Big Ten team in front a big crowd.
“Anytime you can play in a big-time environment like this, in front of family and friends in this atmosphere, it's a great experience for us,” Orange said. “They kind of exposed us today, which is good. Now we know what we have to work on.”
Wofford was off to a great start this season, averaging 14.7 points and 11.7 rebounds per game.
The Vikings will have to figure out a way quickly to make up for his absence. They will practice Friday evening and play MacMurray on Sunday afternoon at Carver Center.
“When you're winning a lot of games and making (tourney) runs, this is a humbling experience,” Ebel said. “We found out the things we have to work on. This is definitely motivating. None of us have ever lost that bad in our careers. It's definitely motivation.”