Column | ‘Assertive’ Coleman Hawkins propels Illini past No. 24 Rutgers


Sidney Malone

Forward Coleman Hawkins dunks the ball during Saturday’s game against Rutgers. Hawkins scored a team-high against Rutgers however, he asserts that he still needs to improve offensively.

By Carson Gourdie, Sports Video Editor

Hawkins, Dainja postgame press conference after Rutgers victory

Coleman Hawkins and Dain Dainja dominated down low against Rutgers, helping the Illini pull away for a 69-60 victory.

At the conclusion of each Illinois basketball game, I have a pretty set routine. I head upstairs to the press room, set up my Canon camera to record the press conference, and I grab a bag of free popcorn while texting my friend about Illinois’ Sweet 16 chances. 

At these press conferences, it’s pretty easy to predict who’s going to speak, too. Of course, Brad Underwood meets with the media, which is preceded by the two players of the game. Today, the choice was quite clear: Dain Dainja and Coleman Hawkins would speak after dominating Rutgers down low, propelling the Illini to a 69-60 victory. 

Following victories, critiques aren’t as commonly heard, which is expected. It’s a celebration. It’s an explanation of what worked against your opposition. It’s a platform to exude confidence and credit the coaches for the game plan — usually. 

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Saturday was different. Despite Coleman Hawkins finishing with a team-high 18 points, he didn’t use the microphone to boast. 

Instead, it felt like Hawkins treated the press conference like a group therapy session, opening up about how he needs to become more assertive offensively — which his father and Underwood agree with. 

“I conversate with my dad, and he’s like, ‘You know, in those first five minutes, you have to get involved. You have to get some offensive rebounds and get a putback,’” Hawkins said at the press conference. “I said it wasn’t anybody’s fault but mine. 

“Just getting involved in the game and not just going with flow (will) bring my energy level up, (and) it’s going to help our team win.” 

Against Rutgers, Hawkins was just going with the flow to start. Nine minutes into the game, Hawkins had registered only two points, and the Illini struggled to create offense. A combination of getting out-rebounded and missing a plethora of three pointers helped Rutgers stake out an eight-point advantage. 

But Hawkins sparked the offense late in the first half. While Terrence Shannon Jr. and Matthew Mayer couldn’t buy a bucket, Hawkins bypassed his usual three-point attempts and honed his attention inside — scoring and passing. 

In the first half, Hawkins scored seven points and fed Dainja in the paint. While “it takes the first media (timeout) or two” to get warmed up, Hawkins’ aggressiveness helped the Illini trim the Scarlet Knights’ lead to four points before break. 

“Started out rusty, and just felt really good at half to be honest with (Shannon) and (Mayer) only having one field goal between them,” Brad Underwood said about his team at halftime.

The Illini dominated the second half. But while Shannon and Mayer improved, Hawkins’ ability to attack the rim and hit mid-range shots led the way for the Illini. Hawkins finished with 11 second-half points, with only three of them coming from behind the arc. 

But Hawkins has had a tendency to attempt multiple three pointers a game despite a lack of efficiency. Hawkins finished today 1-5 from the three-point line — with most attempts coming after halftime. He’s now 6-35 from deep in his previous nine games. 

Meanwhile, Hawkins finished 7-8 from inside the arc against Rutgers.

“We need Coleman shooting the basketball, and we need Coleman in an aggressive mode on the offensive side,” Underwood said. “He got a couple on the offensive glass, he got a couple of jump hooks, he had a fade away in the paint. Those are the looks that Coleman makes.”

Overall, aside from Mayer, the team has struggled mightily from behind the arc, but the attempts have continued to pile up. Against Rutgers, Illinois finished 5-20, but the combination of Shannon and Hawkins finding success inside offset the poor shooting performance. 

While Hawkins committed five turnovers, Underwood said in the press conference that he didn’t mind some of his passes because they would’ve resulted in lay-up attempts. Against the Scarlet Knights, ranked 15th in the nation in three-point defense, attacking the rim served them well. 



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