Illinois basketball went into Thursday night needing a win over the Michigan State Spartans.
I know this might sound crazy, but I believed Thursday night was a must-win for the Illini. While we have a great record, losing back-to-back games a man down would have looked bad. It would have sent us shooting down the AP Top 25 too.
But Illinois came out of the gates looking good, and we finished strong. Michigan State didn't know what to do with the Illini defense, and Illinois had some big games from some big-time players.
Despite a rough ending to the first half that saw Michigan State narrow the margin to three points, Illinois was able to push through a Spartans surge. Michigan State took a six-point lead in the second half only to have the Illini make a charge and win the game, 71-68.
Here are five observations from the Illinois basketball win over Michigan State
1. Coleman Hawkins looks like an All-American
I think I have rehashed this about 1,000 times, but Coleman Hawkins started the season so poorly. This was due to him being injured. After sitting out a few games, Hawkins came back a new player.
On Thursday night against Michigan State, Hawkins tallied his seventh-straight double-digit scoring night. This is by far his longest streak eclipsing his previous high of four-straight.
Hawkins finished the game with 15 points, seven rebounds, four blocks, two steals, and two assists. He was also 4-of-9 from the field and 3-of-5 from three-point range. I think his most impressive number was his two total turnovers in 37 minutes of action.
I knew Hawkins had a ton of talent, but we hadn’t seen his full talent come to the surface since he joined the Illinois program. But I honestly feel like we are watching Hawkins turn into an All-American before our eyes.
The scoring ability of the 6-foot-10 monster is incredible. He has a nice touch on the inside, and then he can step out and knock down a three-pointer right in your eye. He has now shot 40% or better from three-point range in five straight contests.
Hawkins’ defense is improving by the game too. He is figuring out how to block shots and play post-defense without fouling. That was always his bugaboo throughout his career.
The transformation of Hawkins has been incredible to watch. This kid is quickly becoming one of the best players in college basketball and at this rate, look for him to start creeping up NBA Draft boards.