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Notes | More care-free approach propelling Hawkins' success

Jan. 12—CHAMPAIGN — Coleman Hawkins admits he used to put too much value on every shot. Too much thought into what each make — and certainly what each miss — meant.

It's an approach Hawkins has abandoned this season. An approach that's helped him turn into the type of shooter Illinois coach Brad Underwood hyped up since he arrived on campus four years ago.

"Honestly, I think I just stopped caring," Hawkins said. "I just shoot it now. I think I cared too much in the past — worrying about if it would go in or not. Now, I just shoot the ball."

Hawkins made 3 of 5 three-pointers in No. 10 Illinois' 71-68 win against Michigan State on Thursday night at State Farm Center. That makes the 6-foot-10 forward 20 of 44 from three-point range in his last seven games. A success rate of 45.5 percent and a far cry from the 2 of 14 threes he made in his first five games.

Hawkins understands what it means for Illinois offensively when he shoots that consistently. That he can be the floor spacer the Illini need to make their offense run more efficiently. That he can stress opposing defenses.

"When I'm hitting those shots, I know our team is rolling," Hawkins said. "It's tough for other teams to guard our guards. It's my senior year. It's not like I have anything to lose. I just go out and play and shoot the ball.

"When I was younger, I just thought about it so much like, 'Oh, I'm going to get subbed out if I'm not making my shots.' Stupid stuff like that. Now, I just go out and play."

That's an attitude and mindset Underwood has been trying to pry from Hawkins since his arrival in Champaign. To hear Hawkins isn't putting the weight of the world on every shot pleases the Illinois coach.

"Is that what he said? That he didn't care? Thank the Lord," Underwood said. "You guys have heard me for years comment about his shooting. ... I don't know what more as a coach I could do over the years than to keep pleading with him to shoot it. I think it's every players' dream to have a coach tell you to shoot it.

"I think he's the best 5-man pick-and-pop guy in college basketball because of his ability to shoot it. He does have the ability to make some hard shots — sometimes I don't like those — but he's a very, very efficient shooter."

★ ★ ★

Hawkins' shooting wasn't the only impact he had on Thursday's win against Michigan State. The veteran forward also had seven rebounds, four blocks and two steals as he guarded all five positions at the same level.

Clips of Hawkins defending Michigan State guards Jaden Akins and A.J. Hoggard were posted to social media after Thursday's game. Hawkins found them and commented that he was starting his campaign for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year based on the way he handled those matchups.

"He's just so active," Illinois guard Ty Rodgers said. "I said it in an interview earlier this week that I think he's one of the best bigs in the country because he can defend one through five and he can pick-and-pop and hit that three. He can run the team. He's so vocal. He's just a tremendous, huge part of our team."

What Hawkins did against Akins and Hoggard is atypical. Illinois' five-way switching also had him defending Tyson Walker on occasion. He was just as successful against the player Underwood said was the best guard in the Big Ten.

"Very few teams have that luxury," the Illinois coach said. "What makes Coleman great isn't his foot speed or his vertical jump. It's his instinct, his ability to anticipate and his IQ. He sees things a second before everybody else does. That's pretty special."

Hawkins caught Michigan State coach Tom Izzo's attention, too.

"Hawkins is getting better," Izzo said. "He's done a nice job with his body. I think he's stronger and tougher. Early, I just thought he was a shooter who wasn't very strong or tough. There's been a big change in him."

★ ★ ★

How Michigan State chose to defend Illinois on Thursday night was sparked by a conversation Izzo said he had with assistant coach Doug Wojcik two weeks ago. Wojcik broached the idea of defending Rodgers with the Spartans' big men before Purdue was able to neutralize the Illini guard last Friday doing the same thing.

Michigan State was ultimately less successful than the Boilermakers. Mady Sissoko and Carson Cooper, as it turns out, couldn't replicate what 7-foot-4, 300-pound Zach Edey did for Purdue in what was essentially not guarding Rodgers.

"Our bigs just didn't cover it," Izzo said. "That was inexcusable, and I have no sympathy. You have a job to do. Do your job. That was disappointing, to be honest with you. We gave him 12 points and the layups at the beginning of the game were killer."

Rodgers finished with 15 points and Michigan State basically staked him to 12 in the first half. That the 6-6 sophomore guard took what the Spartans were giving him — that he didn't try to do too much — resonated with Izzo.

"He knows what he can do, and he knows what he can't do," Izzo said. "This day and age, every kid is trying to do what they can't do. He didn't do that. He did what he could do, and we did a terrible job of letting him get to the rim."

★ ★ ★

Hawkins wouldn't mind seeing other Big Ten teams try the same defensive tactic that only Purdue has managed to make work. Both Kansas with Hunter Dickinson and Marquette with Oso Ighodaro tried something similar. The Jayhawks and Golden Eagles, like the Spartans, weren't all that successful.

"It's kind of disrespectful, in a way, to do that and put a 5-man on Ty," Hawkins said. "It's funny. Dude was just sitting in the paint, and they're expecting Ty to not do anything. He went out there and started serving him. It was really good to see that. It made me laugh. Those big men are stiff. Can't really guard. I hope other teams continue to do that."

Hawkins and Rodgers were two of Illinois' five double-digit scorers in Thursday's win. Marcus Domask also had 15 points, while Justin Harmon and Quincy Guerrier added 10 apiece. It's the type of scoring balance the Illini have shown since losing Terrence Shannon Jr. to suspension.

"Nobody has an ego on this team," Rodgers said. "Everybody has one common goal, and that's to win the game. Every night you're going to have somebody else. It might be Quincy's night. It might be Coleman. It might be Marcus or it might be Justin. We're all happy for each other. I think that's the biggest thing with this team. That goes into why we're so connected."

★ ★ ★

Luke Goode was the only Illinois starter not to score in double figures. The junior guard finished with four points, but it was his six rebounds — and three on the offensive end — that drew praise from Underwood. Mostly because it was six more than he had in last week's loss at Purdue.

"He cares," Underwood said. "Luke's about winning. We've got a locker room that enjoys winning. Luke will be the first to tell you, 'I've got to rebound better.' He was mad at himself. He wants to win. That's who Luke Goode is. He's a winner with a capital 'W.' I'm going to be the guy that edges that along and make that more of a focal point — not just for him, but for everybody else — but Luke's a stud."

Scott Richey