It’s no secret that Hawkins has been struggling with his shot recently — the senior guard has missed his last 18 3-point attempts over a span of eight games — but it was surprising to see him let his shooting slump negatively affect his defense, as appeared to be the case in road losses at Fresno State and Air Force.
Hawkins hadn’t been his usual ball-hawking self during that stretch, and his playing time was starting to dwindle because of it. As the team’s sixth man, he’d played at least 20 minutes in every game this season until logging just 17 minutes in the loss at Fresno State. That was followed by just six minutes in the home win over New Mexico — his lowest total since his freshman year.
Against San Diego State, however, he seemed to regain his defensive mojo, so much so that Dave Rice started him in the second half and kept him in for almost the full 20 minutes (he subbed out in the final seconds for better free-throw shooters).
Hawkins played 28 minutes total, and though his shooting slump continued (3-10 FGs, 0-3 3FGs), his work on the defensive end more than made up for it. While he was in the game, SDSU shot just 13-of-42 from the field (30.1 percent) and committed 11 turnovers.
Hawkins finished with two rebounds, two steals and a block, and an impressive plus/minus rating of plus-8.
Most importantly, the performance seemed to restore Rice’s confidence in his glue guy.
“I thought Justin Hawkins gave us a great lift,” Rice said after the SDSU game. “He’s just such a team guy. We all know he’s been struggling with his shooting, but he doesn’t let it affect his defense and he did a fabulous job tonight of being a leader.”
There’s no telling when Hawkins will find his shooting touch again, but as long as he keeps playing defense like he did against SDSU, he can make a positive impact for the Rebels.
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