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Notes: Hawkins declares Elite Eight loss his last in Illinois uniform

Mar. 30—BOSTON — Brad Underwood got all four of his fifth-year players and Coleman Hawkins together on the court toward the end of the second half of Saturday's Elite Eight showdown with Connecticut.

The game was already decided. A 25-0 run by the Huskies to start the second half put it quickly out of reach for the Illini. That group didn't necessarily need to be in the game, but they were all on the court together so they could get one more exit together — to bask in the support of the Illinois fans among the 19,181 in attendance at TD Garden — one last time.

Because Saturday was it for Terrence Shannon Jr., Marcus Domask, Quincy Guerrier and Justin Harmon. They were all going to run out of eligibility as soon as the final buzzer sounded.

Saturday was also apparently it for Coleman Hawkins. The Illinois senior has a bonus year of eligibility from the 2020-21 season waylaid by the COVID-19 pandemic, but he doesn't intend, at this time, to use it.

"Every good thing must come to an end," Hawkins said. "I feel like I put a lot into this program. It's not against anybody. I'm a senior, obviously, so I have options, but, me personally, I feel like I want to really start developing and get a lot better at basketball. I feel like I've got to take a next step to get there, so I feel like this is my last game in an Illinois uniform."

Underwood called Hawkins' time at Illinois "special." The 6-foot-10 forward was the last man standing from the Illini's 2020 recruiting class, making him the only four-year player on the roster.

"He's right there with Trent (Frazier) and Ayo (Dosunmu) and so many others," the Illinois coach said. "He's a guy that's been with us for four years. He's grown. He's shown what he can do on the basketball court — especially here this season."

Hawkins said he'd remember two things the most from his time in Champaign. The fans, who supported him, and the coaches, who helped him grow.

"Honestly, if I'm being real, I think the fans showing so much love," Hawkins said was what he'd take away from four years with the Illini. "Being super supportive of me. The real fans. They've done a good job of just supporting me. Then our coaching staff is pretty cool, too. They've accepted who I am and worked with me and been supportive of me throughout my career."

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Domask spent just a single season in Champaign. But the Southern Illinois transfer quickly became an integral part of Illinois' success.

"I'm just thankful," Domask said. "I'm thankful for the crowds and the people in the program and just the way they took me in as a one-year. I'm thankful for how everyone treated my family. I know they really enjoyed this run, and they got treated really well by all the fans."

Guerrier also had just a one-year stint with Illinois after finally saying yes to Underwood, who recruited him out of high school and again when he hit the transfer portal the first time.

"I would have never known that we would make it to the Elite Eight," Guerrier said. "It's a big accomplishment. They haven't done it since '05. We'll be remembered."

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UConn managed to do what no team had done this season when it held Shannon to eight points on 2 of 12 shooting. The Illinois guard had scored in double figures for 41 consecutive games dating back to last season. His last with fewer than 10 was a six-point effort at Wisconsin on Jan. 28, 2023 — 428 days ago.

"We were 0 for 19 challenging Donovan (Clingan)," Underwood said. "That allows your perimeter guys to get pretty good and pretty aggressive. Tough night, but great season and one for the record books at our place."

UConn defended Shannon mostly with Stephon Castle. The 6-foot-6 freshman is a projected lottery pick in this year's NBA draft.

"Steph just made it really, really tough on him," UConn coach Dan Hurley said. "He chased him off the line. We did a great job in transition. One of his two buckets was a flash in transition — he got there so fast. Then whenever he did get the edge, we had rim protection there. You had Donovan there. You had Samson (Johnson) there.

"But Steph, there's a reason why, in the basketball world, people are as high on Steph as they are. He's a winning player, and obviously he's got an incredible career in the NBA ahead of him. He's been the anti-five star freshman. He does whatever the team needs for us to win."

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Amani Hansberry subbed into Saturday's game for the first time with just less than 9 minutes remaining in the second half. Illinois trailed by 29 points. It would be a rather stress-free situation for the Illinois freshman.

Hansberry didn't falter. The 6-8 forward knocked down a pair of three-pointers — doubling his season total — and finished with eight points in 7 minutes.

"He's got confidence, man," Illinois guard Luke Goode said of Hansberry. "We're down, so he's not going to make any crucial mistakes. He can just play free. He had confidence to knock down a couple shots. It will get people excited for next season to see his growth and see how much better he can get."

Hansberry played sparingly this season. Being a freshman on a veteran roster already set limits on how much he might play. Then a back injury cost him 10 games in the middle of the season. But the overall experience was still positive.

"The first word that comes to my brain is knowledge," Hansberry said. "I gained a lot of knowledge this year from all the older, experienced guys. Little stuff on defense and offense. Really learning how to win — what it takes to win. The hard plays TJ makes. Those tough baskets Marcus makes.

"Just being there and being in the moment — knowing what it looks like and how it feels — is my hugest takeaway from this year. ... It was great coming in and battling that experience every day. Seeing the little things they do. The (stuff) they do off the court that makes them great. Luke coming in in the morning and getting shots up. Marcus coming in in the morning getting shots up. Knowing their success isn't just given to them. It's not a handout. During the offseason, they worked their butts off to get that success."

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Even after losing the four fifth-year players and Hawkins, Illinois can return several pieces of its Elite Eight team. That includes rotation regulars like Goode, Ty Rodgers and Dain Dainja, Sencire Harris, who redshirted this season, and freshmen like Hansberry, Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn and Nico Moretti.

Those freshmen got their first taste of postseason basketball. Watched a lot — and contributed some — to a longer postseason run than any Illinois team in nearly two decades.

"The lesson learned is, one, how the abruptness of the end hits you and how emotional that locker room is," Underwood said. "When how good a feeling it is to get so close and win so many games and win a championship. We talk about winning a lot, and we won a lot. (Saturday) we didn't. I think all those guys have grown, and I'm their biggest fan."

Rodgers sees what Illinois did this season as the new standard set.

"The younger guys, I'm glad they got to experience us going deep like this," the Illini sophomore said. "For the guys coming in, I'm glad they got to watch it so when they come in they'll know what to expect from the jump. It's obviously a building block, and we're going to keep working and try to have a great summer and build off it for next year."