What does Mike Thorne's injury mean to Illinois this season? Read Derek Piper's premium breakdown
CHAMPAIGN - Three steps forward, one huge step back for Illinois basketball on the injury front.
Days after Leron Black, Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate returned to the court from separate injuries, Illinois suffered another huge injury loss. Senior center Mike Thorne Jr. underwent surgery to remove a torn meniscus in his left knee on Monday, the team announced. The school did not specify whether he will return this season, saying Thorne is "out indefinitely."
Black sat out about a month after surgery for a torn meniscus. Thorne Jr. suffered the injury during the first half of Saturday's 84-73 loss to No. 4 Iowa State.
Thorne Jr., a fifth-year transfer from Charlotte who committed to Illinois over Kansas and Kentucky, has started all seven games and averaged 13.4 points and a team-leading 8.4 rebounds in 22.1 minutes per game. He also leads the team with five blocks.
If he were unable to return this season, Thorne Jr. would be eligible to apply for a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA to gain another year of eligibility because he played in under 30 percent of the team's games this season.
Without Thorne, junior center Maverick Morgan and redshirt freshman Michael Finke figure to play larger roles. Morgan has had a hot start, averaging 6.4 points on 67.7 percent shooting in 12.0 minutes. Finke has given Illinois an offensive boost in his first season, averaging 6.9 points in 16.1 minutes. Neither is as strong in the post nor on the glass as Thorne Jr. Illinois also played Black a bit at the five against Iowa State.
Illinois has been ravaged by injuries during the last few months.
For the second straight season, point guard Tracy Abrams' season ended before it started after he suffered a torn Achillies' in July. The four-time team captain missed the 2014-15 season with a torn ACL. He is expected to apply to the NCAA for a medical hardship waiver for a sixth year of eligibility.
Black, a sophomore forward, underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in October. He has played in five of seven games so far, averaging 5.8 points and 4.2 rebounds. Nunn, a junior guard, missed the first five games of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his thumb on his shooting hand. He's averaged 18.5 points per game in the two games since he returned.
Tate, a junior point guard, suffered an open dislocation of his right pinky finger during a season-opening loss to North Florida and missed four games before returning against UAB on Friday. He's played 30 minutes in two games, averaging 2.3 points and 1.3 assists.
Freshman Jalen Coleman-Lands, a top-50 recruit, missed most of the offseason with a stress fracture in his lower left leg but has played in all seven games, averaging 8.1 points.
Illinois opens the renovated State Farm Center on Wednesday against Notre Dame as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.