Illinois Basketball: 5 observations from the Illini loss to Maryland

Dec 29, 2023; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Brad Underwood watches
Dec 29, 2023; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Brad Underwood watches / Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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Illinois basketball had a great chance to take care of business at home and move up the rankings, but they failed to get the job done.

The Illini just didn't look good for much of the game. Maryland looked bigger, faster, and stronger, and they put it to Illinois. We didn't have an answer for some of the talented big men on the Terrapins roster, and it showed, especially in the second half. Maryland looked better than Illinois on this day, and they would take the game, 76-67.

I was hoping the Illini would launch up the AP Top 25 on Monday, but with this home loss to a 10-win Maryland program, I am just hoping to stay in the top-15.

Here are five observations from the Illinois basketball loss to Maryland

1. Coleman Hawkins couldn’t handle Maryland’s athletic ability

Over the past couple of months, Coleman Hawkins has played some of the best basketball of his career. He looked like the future NBA talent that he was billed to be entering the 2023-24 campaign.

On Sunday, Hawkins came back down to Earth. One game doesn’t mean much, but I am not going to sugarcoat it, he was bad.

Hawkins finished the Maryland game with eight points, seven rebounds, two blocks, one assist, and one steal. Those aren’t terrible numbers, but what stands out the most from the game was his five fouls, 2-of-6 shooting from the field, and 0-of-4 from three-point range.

Offensively, Hawkins was bad, but I would argue his defense was even worse. He had some good moments with solid verticality and ability to block shots, but he couldn’t handle the Terrapins' size and athletic ability in the paint.

6-foot-9 Julian Reese was Hawkins’ biggest issue. Reese backed down Hawkins the entire game and could make a move and get to the rim with relative ease. Hawkins had such a tough time that Reese finished the game with 20 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 8-of-16 from the field.

The struggles were clear, so I was curious why Dain Dainja didn’t get more of a chance. When Dainja was in the game, he looked great. But he only played seven minutes.

Hawkins is having a great season, but he looked pretty bad on Sunday. I fully expect him to rebound when we take on Michigan on Thursday. Illinois needs more out of him on defense.