COLLEGE PARK, MD. — The Wolverines couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the year.
Led by a career-high 26 points from freshman center Hunter Dickinson, the Michigan men’s basketball team survived a sweet-shooting Maryland team to improve its record to 8-0 (3-0 Big Ten) in an 84-73 win, now standing alone as the only Big Ten team without a blemish on its conference record.
Sophomore wing Franz Wagner produced perhaps his best performance of the season in the New Year’s Eve win. After scoring 20 points in an 80-69 win over Nebraska, Wagner finished the night with 19 points to go along with four assists and three steals. He showed a great deal of confidence from beyond the arc as well, nailing a season-high three 3-pointers on six attempts.
“(Wagner is) always looking to improve, whether it’s in practice or also on film, and how can he get better to help the team,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “When you have an attitude like that, success comes.”
In the early stages of the second half, the Terrapins appeared to gain momentum after a layup from forward Donta Scott gave them a four-point edge. The Wolverines, though, responded almost immediately. Dickinson followed up a missed triple from senior forward Isaiah Livers to set up a 3-pointer from Wagner. A possession later, senior guard Mike Smith gave Michigan the lead with a step-back jumper.
After getting a stop on the defensive end, Wagner found Dickinson on the drive off a nifty pass to set up an and-one finish. Following a Maryland shot clock violation, Dickinson lofted a pass from the post to senior guard Eli Brooks, who drove baseline for a thunderous two-handed slam that capped a 10-0 scoring run and sent the Wolverines’ bench into a frenzy. Following a triple from Smith, Michigan capped a 31-9 scoring blitz with 3:40 left in the second half.
“I give all the credit to the defense, and I also give all the credit to those guys that were sitting on the bench bringing that energy,” Howard said. “And that’s what keyed our run. The defensive disposition and also the energy from the guys that hadn’t even checked into the game or the guys that were taking a breather that were sitting on the bench, breathing life into the players that were on the floor.”
Dickinson’s feed to Brooks on his slam was one of many highlight plays from the best game of his young career. As he has on numerous occasions this season, Dickinson proved to be an unstoppable weapon in the post. He routinely backed down opposing big men as if he was matched against a guard every time he was fed in the post, knocking down 10 shots on 11 attempts. He was also active on the offensive glass, hauling in four offensive rebounds and 11 total.
“It was a lot of fun coming back to the DMV,” Dickinson said. “I was bringing back a lot of memories, especially being so close to the Metro. It brought back a lot of memories, lot of good times, really fun to play out there with my team, get the win.”
In the first half, the Wolverines appeared to be in the drivers’ seat, at one point getting out to a 26-16 lead with ten minutes to go. Maryland, though, refused to go away. Led by a perfect 3-for-3 shooting half from Scott, coach Mark Turgeon’s squad went white-hot from the great beyond, draining seven triples on nine attempts.
Michigan, however, was able to weather the 3-point barrage and chip away at the lead with easy buckets inside and from the wing, in large part because of the steady hand of Smith. Whether he was nailing step-back jumpers or feeding Dickinson for easy finishes in the paint, Smith ran the Wolverine offense with tactical efficiency, finishing the night with 13 points, six rebounds and six assists for the second consecutive game.
“I’m for sure capable of (scoring) every trip down,” Smith said. “If you go back and look at the Columbia stats, you know I can do it. But that’s just not what we need here. It’s about sharing the ball and playing together. And if we need that, I will for sure do it.”
While the Wolverines have played in two Big Ten contests already, this was the first that truly felt like a dogfight. In the first half alone, four technical fouls were assessed and the two sidelines routinely jawed back and forth with each ensuing bucket. Dickinson was notably called for a technical foul after staring down the Terrapin bench just days after saying he felt “disrespected” that the school did not recruit him despite being a Maryland-native.
“The ref thought I said something but I opened my mouth to say something I was like, ‘nope,’ then I closed my mouth real quick,” Dickinson said. “It’s alright. We talked about it after with him and we were good.”
While they did not shoot as efficiently from deep as the Terrapins, Michigan found success on the offensive end, shooting 58.8% from the field and converting on 18-of-20 free throw attempts. Despite the Wolverines’ success on the offensive side of the floor, Livers and senior forward Chaundee Brown were noticeably quiet, combining to shoot just 1-for-8 from the field with Livers accounting for all seven points.
“I think that just shows how deep we are as a team,” Smith said. “If one person’s not having a good game, the next person can step up. That just shows that coach believes in everybody who he puts out there they’re capable of playing. It showed today.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.
For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.