Hawks bring focused energy, sense of purpose into new year with victory over Bulldogs

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Quincy University forward Malik Hardmon, right, gets fouled on the arm by Truman State's Xavier Hall during the first half of Thursday night's game at Pershing Arena in Kirksville, Mo. | Photo courtesy Max Bennett, QU Athletics

KIRKSVILLE, Mo. — No one associated with the Quincy University men’s basketball program — outside of head coach Steve Hawkins — had experienced success against Truman State University.

As much as the Hawks wanted to change that Thursday night, there was a larger purpose behind their 85-74 Great Lakes Valley Conference victory at Pershing Arena.

It meant they didn’t leave the good vibes behind.

“We wanted to end 2022 with a win, and we wanted to start 2023 with a win,” senior forward Malik Hardmon said. “Achieving that is big, most definitely big.”

To do so in the manner in which the Hawks rang in the new year was equally significant.

Quincy overwhelmed Truman State in the first half, shooting 57.1 percent from the floor while making 7 of 13 3-pointers. Conversely, the Bulldogs shot just 35 percent from the field and went 0 of 8 from beyond the arc.

It fueled a 22-7 run over the game’s first seven minutes and enabled the Hawks to lead by as many as 25 points in the first half. They took a 51-28 lead into halftime.

“We didn’t play any games from the jump,” Hardmon said. “We came out and we started  handling business. We set the tone. We had a fire and you could see it. We set the tone for the game and we didn’t let up.”

It ended the Bulldogs’ nine-game win streak in the series. The Hawks last beat the Bulldogs  97-92 in Kirksville during the 2016-17 season.

“We’ve been in a lot of really close games with them,” said QU junior guard Paul Zilinskas, who has experienced four single-digit losses to Truman State, including one in overtime and a one-point loss. “It felt really good to finally beat them, especially on their own floor.”

It further cements the notion the Hawks are contenders in the GLVC. Quincy (8-5, 4-1 GLVC) is tied with nationally ranked Missouri-St. Louis for first place in the league. The last time that could be said was six years ago.

“We wanted to win this rivalry game and remind this entire conference that we are for real,” Hardmon said. “This is real. This ain’t a joke. We’re here. Teams have to worry about us.”

They have to be concerned with how to stop Hardmon, too.

Truman State couldn’t.

The 6-foot-6 forward scored a career-high 29 points, going 10 of 17 from the field, 3 of 6 from 3-point range and 6 of 6 from the free-throw line. He also grabbed seven rebounds and nabbed three steals.

The secret to his success was quite simple.

“Relaxing and calming my mind,” Hardmon said. “I tried taking what was given to me. I tried not to force too much. I just relaxed.”

All the Hawks did. Zilinskas finished with 16 points, going 4 of 5 from 3-point range. Freshman point guard Isaiah Foster had 11 points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals, The Hawks shot 50.8 percent from the field overall and went 15 of 17 from the line.

It showed they stayed engaged despite the 18-day stretch between games.

“Some teams might come back off that break a little lackadaisical,” Zilinskas said. “We wanted to come back strong and play Hawk basketball. I think that’s exactly what we did from the jump.”

Xavier Hall led the Bulldogs with 12 points, while Monroe City product C.E. Talton scored 10 points off the Truman State bench and former John Wood Community College guard Brandon Kracht had four points off the bench.

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