Crim: Hawks hope turbulent stretch subsides and more memorable moments await

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The Quincy University men's basketball team has made considerable strides in Steve Hawkins' first season back on the bench. | Matt Schuckman photo

QUINCY— Quincy University coach Steve Hawkins likes to compare a basketball season to an airplane flight.

“There’s always going to be some turbulence,” he explained.

His team is trying to navigate its choppiest stretch yet.

After surprising preseason prognosticators by winning six of their first seven Great Lakes Valley Conference games to rise to the top of the league standings, the Hawks have lost three of their last four to drop into a third-place tie, two games behind leader Indianapolis in the loss column.

Only a last-second putback by Jamaurie Coakley against Drury last Monday night prevented the slide from stretching to four games.

Conversely, had QU made a couple more stops against Southwest Baptist, not fallen apart defensively during a six-minute stretch versus Missouri-St. Louis and shot a respectable percentage from the field against Missouri S&T, it might be riding a 10-game winning streak like Indianapolis.

Such is the margin for error in the GLVC, especially with a relatively young, unproven roster that was predicted to finish 12th in the 13-team league.

“JJ (Schwepker) said before the season he was tired of other teams looking at us as an easy win on the schedule,” Hawkins said. “We want to get to where we are competing for the GLVC championship every year, and we’re right there in Year 1.

“The kids have been unbelievable. They’re giving great effort, diving for loose balls on the floor, playing hard. We just need to get some guys healthy and get some guys to step up and shoot confidently.

“There are a lot of great things here. It’s all about gaining momentum in the program on all fronts. We have a lot of work to do in the next couple of years.”

The Hawks’ slide coincided with a grueling stretch that saw the GLVC force most teams to play an NBA-like five games in 10 days.

Leading scorer Malik Hardmon missed the Drury game and is playing on a tender ankle. Second-leading scorer Paul Zilinskas (foot) and forward Mason Wujek (back) have missed the last two games, and their return is uncertain.

The absence of Zilinskas and Wujek were particularly glaring Saturday in a seven-point home loss against Missouri S&T. QU was out of sync offensively for much of the game and shot the ball poorly, especially from the perimeter, and its lack of depth was apparent when Hawkins tried to rest starters during critical stretches.

“Paul is a good player on all three levels,” Hawkins said of the 6-foot-5 junior. “He can shoot from the perimeter, drive to the basket and get to the free-throw line. Mason rebounds the ball, blocks shots and controls the paint. He helps with our depth up front.

“Five games in 10 days is not good for the kids’ health. No coach is a fan of it.”

The schedule returns to its normal pace this week when the Hawks travel to McKendree (8-9, 4-6 GLVC) Thursday night before returning home Saturday to face Maryville (11-8, 4-7 GLVC).

They then face Lewis and Indianapolis on the road, teams they stunned at home to open league play, before hosting Illinois-Springfield, which handed QU its only lopsided loss of the season (88-53) in the first matchup in December.

Five of QU’s remaining nine games will be on the road. Twelve of their first 19 games have been decided by eight points or fewer.

“We have some opportunities in front of us,” Hawkins said.

One of the positives of the recent stretch has been the presence of the coach’s family since the Rockhurst game. His father, Ed, sister Debbie and brother-in-law Bob made the trip from California. His brother, David, was in from Cape Girardeau, Mo.

They have taken in games, visited and eaten at the Scoreboard, just like they did during Hawkins’ first stint in Quincy in the 1990s. They celebrated Ed’s 95th birthday on Saturday.

“When I was deciding whether to take the spot, one person I thought of my was Dad,” Hawkins said. “He loved Quincy. He was happiest of all when I was here.

“He said three or four years ago when we were still in Kalamazoo (coaching at Western Michigan) that it was getting hard to travel, that it might be his last plane trip. When I got the job here, he said he had to find a way to get some energy to come back to watch games.”

Ed spoke to the team in the locker room before Saturday’s game against Missouri S&T, then went to his customary seat under the north basket.

“It was a pretty cool moment for me, for him and for the players,” Hawkins said.

The coach is hoping for a few more cool moments in the season’s final month, and beyond.

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