Between the drop-step layups, hook shots, slam dunks and even a few jump shots, Hunter Dickinson was showing his full offensive repertoire.
How do you neutralize a 7-foot-1, 255-pound center with that skill set? Like most of the Michigan men’s basketball team’s opponents this season, Minnesota didn’t have an answer to that question.
Behind the freshman’s career-high 28 points, No. 10 Michigan (10-0 overall, 5-0 Big Ten) easily dispatched the 16th-ranked Golden Gophers (8-3 overall, 3-3 Big Ten), 82-57, at Crisler Center on Wednesday night.
Much of the pre-game coverage was devoted to the matchup at center between Dickinson and the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week, Minnesota’s Liam Robbins — and rightfully so. In the end, though, it was a lopsided battle in favor of Dickinson.
“I think before the game I was pretty excited to go against another top big man, not only in the conference but in the country,” Dickinson said. “I respect them, so I came in there with a good mindset, and I think (Michigan coach Juwan Howard) had a really good game plan for me and the team to come out successful today.”
Added Howard: “Hunter was just effective in helping give us the best opportunities in being able to score and his teammates did a phenomenal job in being patient and delivering the ball on time, on target.”
The Gophers struggled to establish much offensively. Wolverine defenders were everywhere, cutting off passing lanes, stripping the ball and contesting everything with a maniacal attention to detail. Michigan forced eight turnovers in the first half — two of which allowed senior wing Isaiah Livers to showcase his dunking ability on the other end.
After a 21-point, 12-assist outing against the Wolverines last season, Minnesota guard Marcus Carr was kept largely quiet by senior guard Eli Brooks.
“We were going after Carr on ball screens,” Livers said. “We tried to disrupt him as much as possible, get in his way, make him cough the ball up and maybe get a steal. We were just in gaps and showing him that he can’t drive here … not today.”
Still, despite shooting just 33.3% from the field and giving up 14 points to Dickinson, the Gophers cut a double-digit deficit to just six points at the the end of the half.
“They got really active defensively,” Howard said. “It kinda sped us up a little bit, made us a little uncomfortable. We couldn’t run our sets. We got late in the shot clock, and then they went back down and our defense relaxed, they made a run. But that’s a part of the game.”
However, it wasn’t long before the game was out of Minnesota’s reach. Michigan went on a 17-4 run to open the second half. Whether it was Dickinson adding to his tally or sophomore wing Franz Wagner striding past his defender for two points, the Wolverines were rolling. When their defense fed into their offense in the first half, the reverse was true in the second.
Robbins’s presence on the floor went unnoticed, scoring just five points total and none in the second half. Even after Brooks went to the locker room following a hard collision, Carr too, couldn’t keep the Gophers in the game.
“I really enjoy when guys are hitting their shots,” Dickinson said. “It makes it easy for me, cause then they don’t come down and double team me. I’m really happy for them. I like to get excited for my teammates, so it makes it really fun for me out there when they’re playing well.”
Facing little resistance, Michigan pulled away to a demoralizing effect — doubling up Minnesota’s 36 points at the 7:10 minute mark.
With the bench jumping up and down after every big play or basket, it was evident the Wolverines were enjoying themselves. As the Big Ten’s only remaining undefeated team and after back-to-back routes of ranked opponents, it would be difficult not to.