CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — The search for consistency continues for the Illinois basketball team. Dating back to its win over No. 2 Texas at Madison Square Garden in early December, the Illini have either won or lost every high major game by at least nine points. Seven out of those nine games have been decided by double-digits, with the two outliers nine-point differentials. Tuesday night’s 69-60 win over Ohio State one of those games the Illini (14-6, 5-4 B1G) showed what they’re capable of, leading by as many as 17 late in the second half.
Coleman Hawkins was a big reason for the success over the Buckeyes (11-9, 3-6 B1G) and more so for what the junior forward did defensively. Hawkins had one of his more complete games scoring 11 points, grabbing nine rebounds and dishing out six assists, but it was his work on the other side of the ball that stood out most to his teammates and head coach Brad Underwood. The 6-foot-10 do-it-all forward played a big part in holding OSU freshman standout Brice Sensabaugh to just 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting from the field.
“I feel like we’re unbeatable when Coleman plays like that,” Illinois senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr. said after scoring a game high 17 points against the Buckeyes. “And he got it within the offense. I’m not saying he had bad games before but we all played together and executed offensively.”
Drawing the other team’s best offensive threat is nothing new for Hawkins, who has shined on that stage before, holding Rutgers’ standout Ron Harper Jr. to just five points and 1-for-9 shooting in a game in Champaign last season. Hawkins also had a hand in defending Iowa’s Keegan Murray in two games last season, limiting the NBA’s fourth overall pick in the 2022 draft to 14-for-37 from the field in his two games against the Illini.
“I do get excited but not only that, it’s my assignment to win,” Hawkins said about defending the other team’s best player. “Although they have the noise around the NBA and the draft and stuff like that, it’s a team assignment and I know if I shut those guys down it will be a lot easier to win.”
“I don’t want to level consistency for him or judge it based on what he does on the offensive side but that consistency on the defensive side and we talked about it a lot in the last two days about him really getting back aggressive on the glass,” Underwood said.
Hawkins and the Illini return to the court Saturday visiting Wisconsin for a 2 p.m. tip-off from the Kohl Center in the first Big Ten rematch road game for Illinois this season.