Gophers point guard Hawkins ‘definitely coming back next year’

Gophers point guard Elijah Hawkins hopes his team can extend its season into the NIT after Thursday's 77-67 loss against Michigan State, but he said he'll be back next season, either way.

Hawkins, who led the Big Ten in assists during the regular season, was a big part of the turnaround for the Gophers after transferring from Howard.

The 5-11 junior didn't waste any time talking about his future after a deflating quick exit in the Big Ten tournament second round at Target Center. He made it clear he's not looking to transfer.

"I know we did a lot better than people expected," said Hawkins, who had 10 points and seven assists against the Spartans. "I'm definitely coming back next year. In the offseason we have to grind it out — and we'll have more experience next year."

The Gophers' backcourt was outplayed by Michigan State's Tyson Walker and A.J. Hoggard, who combined for 32 points Thursday. But the play of Hawkins and freshman Cam Christie kept the Gophers in the game before the Spartans pulled away in the second half. Christie and Hawkins combined for 16 points in the second half, including 4-for-5 from three-point range.

"Hopefully we can make the NIT and get to keep continuing our season," Hawkins said.

Christie, who was named to the All-Big Ten freshman team, was disappointed in not being able to make a run in his first Big Ten tournament. He talked about how this team still wants to prove it can play better basketball than it has in losing five of its last six games.

"Getting to play in the [NIT] would be great," Christie said. "Get this bitter taste out of our mouth."

Izzo misses Flip

Spartans coach Tom Izzo had several teams that played well in the Big Ten tournament, but he never coached at Target Center — a place that was special for his late friend, Flip Saunders.

Saunders developed a lasting relationship with Izzo after he coached the Detroit Pistons from 2005-08. The former Timberwolves coach and president of basketball operations died in 2015 after battling Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"It was tearful for me," Izzo said on coaching his team Thursday, with Saunders being honored with a banner in the rafters.

Izzo spent time with Saunders when interviewing for the Wolves head coach job years ago. They also hung out whenever he was in town to recruit Minnesota talent.

"I love the guy," Izzo added. "I'm really proud of his son [Ryan Saunders], who's doing so well out in Denver. Flip Saunders deserves to be even thought of more than he probably is here because he loved this city, he loved the Gophers, he loved the Timberwolves — and I love him."

Holloman's impact

Former Cretin-Derham Hall standout Tre Holloman is the most recent Minnesota native playing for Izzo and the Spartans. Holloman had nine points on 3-for-3 shooting, four assists and two steals off the bench against the Gophers.

"I thought it was one of his best games," Izzo said. "You come home, you want to play well in front of some of your family and friends."