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Notes: Beating Iowa secures Illinois' 1,000th Big Ten win

Feb. 24—CHAMPAIGN — Coleman Hawkins deleted some apps from his phone in the wake of Illinois' loss at Penn State. Got away from social media. Limited the voices he was hearing.

Perhaps necessary moves from the veteran forward given the role he played in that late-game collapse against the Nittany Lions. Missed free throws. Fouling a jump shooter. Mistakes that helped further the Illini's demise in the disaster of a final 35 seconds in that game.

"Not make any excuses for myself," Hawkins said. "Just be a man, really. Man up and on to the next. That's what I did. Honestly, a lot of people were saying whatever they had to say. I'm curious how they would have responded if they were me, but I thought I did a good job of being tough and going out and letting everything go."

Part of that process for Hawkins was a meeting with Brad Underwood.

"All those conversations stay really private, but we had a 'get real' conversation," the Illinois coach said. 'I'm really happy with him. I love his response. A year or two ago, I'm not sure that would have been the response. I think it was beneficial we had a pretty quick turnaround and a game, but he practiced great.

"It's the correlation that happens when the mind is right an the mental approach is right. It was not at Penn State. Quite simply not, and he knows that."

Underwood said he "couldn't be prouder" of how Hawkins flipped the script from Wednesday to Saturday. Nine points on 3 of 11 shooting at Penn State turned into a career-high 30 points on 9 of 11 shooting against Iowa. Five turnovers in each game was the same, but Hawkins added five assists and five steals in the 12th-ranked Illini's 95-85 victory against the Hawkeyes.

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Saturday's win was both Illinois' 20th this season and the program's 1,000th in Big Ten. As a charter member of the conference, the Illini are now 1,000-757 in 119 seasons of Big Ten action. A 20-win season also marks five straight for Underwood, who is the first Illinois coach to accomplish that since Lou Henson's teams won at least 20 games nine straight seasons from 1983-91.

"I love consistency," Underwood said. He's now 134-86 overall and 77-57 in the Big Ten now in his seventh season at Illinois. That includes a 26-39 overall mark and just 11 total Big Ten wins in his first two seasons.

"I've never been here to try to have a great team," the Illini coach continued. "I've been here to try to have a great program. On the other hand, I think it should kind of be the norm here. I think this is a really good job, and I think you can win national championships here. That's our expectation here."

Hitting 1,000 Big Ten wins for the program resonated just as much with Underwood.

"That speaks to everything I talk about to how great this program is," he said. "We have to look at it that way. If we're not, then, (darn it) leave. We have to think about how great this place is and this program is. The consistency part of it means a lot because we're in the best league in the country with a lot of really good coaches and players. We should be. Kind of an arrogant attitude, but we should be."

Hawkins has been a part of four of those five 20-win teams during his Illinois career. He signed in November 2019, just after Illinois went 12-21 for the most losses in a single season in program history, but arrived on campus just after the 2019-2020 team went 21-12.

He spent most of his freshman season on the bench as Illinois won the Big Ten tournament and received a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but has played a prominent role in each of the last three seasons.

"When I committed, I was fully aware of where the program was going," Hawkins said. "It's good to see that everything is still continuing and starting to become a tradition. When I first got to Illinois, my biggest thing was making the program a place where someone gets excited if they get an offer from Illinois.

"Illinois is a basketball school. ... I hope everybody realizes we're right there with the best of the best and capable of doing this every season. We've got great guys around us, great staff and great fans."

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Iowa scoring 85 points, of course, made the Hawkeyes the fifth team in six games this month to put up at least 80 on Illinois. While fouls were an issue in the second half — leading to 17 of 19 free throw shooting for the Hawkeyes — the Illini went from allowing Iowa to shoot 62 percent in the first half to just 35 percent in the second.

"I just feel like we were being way more physical," Illinois guard Justin Harmon said was the difference. "They got middle a lot in the first half, and that led to easy buckets. We just listened to our bigs and honored the call and just played with way more urgency on the defensive side. It led to easy buckets on the offensive side, which was great to see."

Iowa's first half efficiency came in an effective mid-range game. Tony Perkins had 11 points on 5 of 9 shooting in the first half, while Josh Dix added nine points on 4 of 6 shooting and Ben Krikke had eight points on 4 of 6 shooting. That trio was just 2 of 5 from three-point range in that stretch, and didn't get all that many looks at the rim either.

Those same shots fell less frequently in the second half.

"It's not rocket science what we do," Underwood said. "It's tough twos. I thought we did a much better job — especially in the second half and (Niccolo Moretti) gets a lot of credit — of just guarding the ball and keeping it in front of us.

"Somebody told me we gave up the fewest layups since the Rutgers game, the first one. Our guys guarded the ball better. We can't have mistakes. That's all I've been harping on. You can't make scouting report mistakes. You've got to be able to take away what the other team does."