Coleman Hawkins shines again as Illinois men’s basketball gets tested in NCAA tournament opener

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Photo Courtesy of Illinois Athletics

Sophomore forward Coleman Hawkins blocks a shot attempt by Chattanooga sophomore guard Malachi Smith with under five seconds on the clock against Chattanooga in Pittsburgh on Friday. Hawkins with 10 points and eight rebounds in the Illini’s 54-53 win over the Mocs.

By Christian Jones, Staff Writer

In Illinois’ nail-biting 54-53 win over the Chattanooga Mocs, sophomore forward Coleman Hawkins continued his recent stretch of stellar performances. 

Hawkins scored 10 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked what would have been the Mocs game-winning shot attempt with four seconds on the clock.

His block sealed the win and punched Illinois’ ticket to the round of 32. After the buzzer sounded, he didn’t look phased.

“I think that was, in my opinion, just another play for me,” Hawkins said after the game. “’Monte got screened, we called a switch, I had a guard on me, he tried to float it up and I blocked the shot. I bothered him with my length, and I think I’ve been doing that all season. So it’s kind of just another play for me.”

Hawkins has stepped up in big moments during each of Illinois’ last three games, finding his stride at the perfect moment. 

The last three games for the Illini were a regular season championship-clinching win against Iowa, a Big Ten tournament game and tonight NCAA Tournament round of 64 matchup. 

Against Iowa, Hawkins played a season-high 37 minutes, scoring nine points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking two shots. 

He scored 18 points against Indiana, including a three to give Illinois the lead with five minutes remaining, though the Illini ended up losing in the end. He also had two steals. 

In Friday night’s win at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Hawkins was again the most active player wearing orange and blue. He’s grabbed at least two offensive rebounds in five of the last six games and had two against Chattanooga. 

“They were much more ready to play than we were in terms of an energy standpoint and execution standpoint,” head coach Brad Underwood said. “Once we got through the first six minutes of the game, I really liked what we were doing defensively. I was worried about us ever getting a rebound, but I thought defensively we were excellent.”

Hawkins put in two successful putbacks early in the first half when Underwood’s squad was sputtering on offense. The offense never picked up, and the Illini shott just 38.8% from the field and 17.6% from behind the arc.

Hawkins shot an efficient 5-8 on Friday, missing his only 3-point attempt. He’s averaging 12 points and eight rebounds over the last three games. 

Finding his groove at just the right time, Hawkins is setting himself up to be a big story in March if the Illini can pull out at least one more win. At this time last season, Hawkins was riding the bench as the Ayo Dosunmu-led iteration of the team was upset by Loyola in round two.

The Illini could’ve used this version of Hawkins then, but Underwood didn’t trust him. His impact was rare and accompanied by mistakes. We may now be seeing the real Coleman Hawkins.

“Coleman made a huge defensive play at the end of the game,” Underwood said. “The thing that I like the most is this group stayed connected and stayed together even when things were not going our way.”

 

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