Hawks set to take on Big Ten opponent

By Shane Hulsey

Quincy University men’s basketball coach Ryan Hellenthal isn’t one to back down from a challenge, especially when that challenge is facing a Division I opponent.

The Hawks will square off with Northwestern, a member of Division I’s Big Ten conference, Oct. 31 in Evanston, Ill.

Hellenthal sees this trip as a once in a lifetime opportunity for the Hawks.

“Not a lot of Division II student-athletes get the chance to play a Big Ten team on their home floor,” he said. “I’m happy for our guys, and it’s great for our program.”

Hellenthal said the Hawks can’t get in over their heads and let the magnitude of a game against a Big Ten opponent get the best of them.

“I think the most important thing is poise,” he said. “We have to maintain our composure. Obviously we’re playing against bigger, stronger, faster athletes, so I’m looking for poise, peace, and composure.”

Thursday’s game is the first of three games for Quincy against Division I opponents this season. The Hawks will face Southern Illinois Edwardsville Nov. 5 and Loyola University Chicago, who reached the 2018 NCAA Final Four, on Dec. 7.

Hellenthal said these three games will be good measuring sticks for how the Hawks stack up against the talented Division II Great Lakes Valley Conference.

“I think it goes unsaid that we play in the best D-II conference in the country,” he said. “The chance to play three Division I exhibition games against three quality opponents prepares us for that. We’ll see the type of size from the bigger level teams that we’re gonna see from Southern Indiana, Bellarmine and some of the other teams in our league.” 

Junior point guard Austin Downing said he and his teammates have to treat the Northwestern game like any other.

“Obviously, you wanna go in there and win, but at the end of the day, we just want to make sure we’re having fun and working on the things we need to work on as a team when it comes to making the next pass and everything like that,” he said. “We can’t get caught up in the hype. We just have to play our game and do what we need to do to win.”

Downing averaged 26 minutes and 11 points per game through the first five games of the 2018-19 season before missing the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury.

He’s back and as strong as ever.

“It’s a blessing, for sure,” he said. “I didn’t know how I would bounce back. I didn’t know if I would be able to make as much contact this year, but God blessed me, and I’m feeling better than ever right now. I’m ready to go.”

Tip-off is 7 p.m. Thursday at Welsh-Ryan Arena. You can watch the game on Big Ten Network Plus.

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