Illinois men’s basketball makes up for bad shooting night with effort, energy

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Photo Courtesy of Illinois Athletics

Andre Curbelo drives to the basket during Illinois’ 92-53 win over Arkansas State on Friday night. High energy on both ends of the court proved pivotal in the Illini’s blowout win.

By Christian Jones, Staff Writer

Coleman Hawkins led the Illini to a 39-point blow out at State Farm Center on Friday night over the Arkansas State Red Wolves.

The Illini struggled shooting all night, hitting just five 3-pointers out of 25 attempts. They also struggled from the free-throw line, connecting on just 60% of their free throws.

Hawkins made seven of his 13 free throws, but he otherwise had a good game. He finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, four blocks and a steal. 

“One of the things I was really impressed with tonight was our effort. We want that to be a reoccurring thing,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “Coleman Hawkins had as good a spurt in the first half with effort plays as I’ve seen maybe in my time here.”

Hawkins scored the first points of the night on an alley-oop from Andre Curbelo less than two minutes in. The two would connect several more times throughout the game.

Curbelo finished with eight points, seven assists, two steals and two turnovers in his return from concussion protocol. He played just 19 minutes.

As Curbelo began to rack up assists in the first half, Arkansas State head coach Mike Balado began instructing his players to play the passing lanes.

“He’s a passer,” Balado said.

This continued for several possessions.

After some back and forth between Curbelo, Balado and the Arkansas State bench, Curbelo attacked the rim and scored a reverse layup right in front of the opposing bench, blowing a kiss as he ran by.

Curbelo was awarded a technical foul for his sign of affection with 6:31 left to go in the first half. Underwood picked up a tech soon after in Curbelo’s defense.

“When you’re going to come out here and talk Spanish, curse at me, talk about my mom, my family … I’m not gonna let that take it too far,” Curbelo said. “So, you know, instead of talking trash, I made a nice little kiss. It’s called being the bigger person, man.”

The interaction seemingly woke up the Illini. Hawkins called it the “turning point.”

“That was when we started to turn up on them,” Hawkins said.

Afterwards, the Illini went on an 18-2 run to close the half. Their run was spurred by physical defense. The Illini packed the paint on defense and closed out hard on threes, forcing Arkansas State into several long two-pointers. The Red Wolves shot just 30% from the field and 18% from the three-point line. 

“I think we did a great job defensively,” Curbelo said. “We know to win a national championship, go back-to-back Big Ten champs, we got to guard. It’s definitely a point of emphasis every practice.”

Curbelo was not the only Illini to get feisty in this game. Hawkins could be seen pumping his fist and hyping the crowd after nearly every positive play for the Illini, though it wasn’t very hard as the crowd was raucous from the start. The student section especially gave the Arkansas State bench a hard time.

“Every time I make a play, it just elevates me. … When you bring energy, it just elevates other guys and it’s contagious,” Hawkins said. “Any time I made a blocked shot, rebound, … the crowd’s going, I just get juiced up and I think that it’s just contagious for the whole team. I think it really helps.”

Passion, emotion or whatever you want to call it has been a double-edged sword for the Illini this year. There were a total of four technicals called this game, two on the Illini. The Illini also had technicals called on them last game and in the preseason games.

“Coleman’s a sophomore but played six minutes a game. He’s very juvenile and still in his growth,” Underwood said. “There was a lot of bantering, and we’ve got to get beyond that.”

After tempers cooled, Curbelo had this to say about all the banter.

“Don’t poke the bear.”

 

@JonesChristianT

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