Coleman Hawkins, Jacob Grandison step up in Illinois men’s basketball’s regular-season opener

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Cameron Krasucki

Jacob Grandison battles for position in the paint during the second half of Illinois’ win over Jackson State on Tuesday night. Grandison and Coleman Hawkins stepped up in big ways with several players unavailable.

By Christian Jones, Staff Writer

Coming into Tuesday’s season opener against Jackson State, it was clear absences would play a role. Kofi Cockburn’s suspension and Trent Frazier’s injury were reported last week, but few were aware that more were to come.

Andre Curbelo’s injury wasn’t announced until minutes before the game. Attendees were shocked to see him and Austin Hutcherson in street clothes as the team warmed up.

Curbelo entered concussion protocol some time this week, hough the exact timeline is unclear. Hutcherson was listed out with a bruised tailbone. The guys who did play struggled at times.

“It’s like having no quarterback,” Underwood said. “We just tried to scrap through it, to be very honest with you, and it wasn’t very pretty. … You guys have no idea how proud I am of those guys tonight.”

The Illini struggled to move the ball early, recording just six assists in the first half to go along with nine turnovers. This lack of ball movement led to a field-goal drought that lasted more than six minutes. 

Coleman Hawkins carried the Illini in the first half, scoring eight points to go along with three steals and two assists. Hawkins repeatedly brought the ball up the court and initiated the offense, a skill that Underwood alluded to him having in the past. 

At 6-foot-10, this skill makes him extremely versatile.

“My expectation for Coleman is probably a lot higher than his is,” Underwood said. “He has no idea how good he’s gonna be. … I gotta get him to tighten things up.”

Hawkins finished the game with 13 points and eight rebounds while adding another steal and a block in the second half. But, late in the game, it was Jacob Grandison who steered the shorthanded Illini to victory.

Grandison had a slow start, scoring just five points in the first half, three of them coming at the free-throw line. To say he picked it up in the second half would be an understatement. 

“I thought Jacob Grandison was spectacular,” Underwood said. “Jake took over in a stretch, and you see what he’s added to his game with his off-the-bounce game.”

Grandison looked comfortable in the spread offense, which Underwood said was implemented four days ago when he found out Curbelo would be unavailable. In the second half, Grandison scored 15 of his 20 points, in addition to adding five rebounds on the night. 

He’s always been a consistent threat to spot up from deep, but he showed more skill than we’ve seen before tonight. He routinely worked his way into the mid-range and nailed some tough fading jumpers, shots he usually doesn’t take.

“My mindset was the same it always is,” Grandison said. “I knew we had a lot of scorers out, but my mentality wasn’t to come in and score at all, it was to know my assignment … and I was just open.”

 

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