Michigan rolls to kick off century season
On Friday night, Aubrey Dawkins put an exclamation point on 100 years of Michigan men’s basketball.
With seven minutes left in the first half against Northern Michigan, the sophomore guard elevated, stretched out his left hand and threw down a put-back dunk off a missed 3-pointer from redshirt sophomore Duncan Robinson.
It was a highlight in a night meant to celebrate a century of Michigan men’s basketball seasons. But Friday showed that Team 100 is far from 100 percent of the way to where it wants to be, even as it rolled past the Wildcats, 70-44.
The 25th-ranked Wolverines (1-0) looked sluggish early in the first half.
Four turnovers in a span of just over two minutes kept the Wildcats in the game deep into the first frame, and they trailed by just four points with eight minutes remaining in the half.
“(It’s) just a little rust — first game,” Dawkins said. “(We were) rushing a little bit trying to make a really good play instead of making the right play.”
Early in the half, senior guard Caris LeVert tried to dish to a teammate at the low post. But a miscommunication resulted in no one being on the receiving end of his pass, and Northern Michigan took over possession. Later, after grabbing a defensive board, Robinson drove to the rim but couldn’t decide between whether to shoot or pass. Instead, he jumped, hesitated and a Wildcat player got a hand on the ball, forcing a jump ball that stayed with the Wildcats. Less than two minutes later, sophomore guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman tried to pirouette and pass to an open D.J. Wilson, but the redshirt freshman forward wasn’t ready for it, and the ball went off his Wilson’s hand out of bounds.
But then, Dawkins took flight, and Michigan took off. Following his electrifying dunk, the Wolverines couldn’t miss.
A minute after, LeVert took two dribbles and two strong strides to take him from the perimeter to the hoop for a layup. On the next possession, junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. stole the ball and finished with a strong layup of his own.
Michigan had found its rhythm. Better late than never.
On the Wolverines’ next trip down the court, Wilson backed down his defender and hit a six-foot turnaround jumper. Sophomore forward Kameron Chatman got in on the action next with a layup, and Dawkins — who started the streak — ended it with a 3-pointer, before Michigan missed its next attempt. Six straight buckets swung the pendulum in the Wolverines’ direction to give them a 10-point lead going into half.
In the second half, Michigan wasted little time getting back into its groove. Dawkins dunked again and hit a three in the opening three minutes as Michigan coasted.
Both Michigan coach John Beilein and LeVert called Dawkins’ performance efficient.
The sophomore took just seven shots — only missing a single 3-point attempt — to tally 15 points total. He also grabbed six boards.
“That’s what we expect from Aubrey every night,” LeVert said. “He was on the offensive glass, played great defense and knocked down a couple shots.”
Dawkins was only bested by LeVert who shot 7-for-12 from the field and knocked down two 3’s for a game-high 18 points. It was LeVert’s first regular-season game since Jan. 17 when he got injured against Northwestern.
Down low, junior forward Mark Donnal started at the ‘5,’ but played just 10 minutes in total. Beilein rotated sophomore forward Ricky Doyle and Wilson into that role, and 6-foot-10 freshman Moritz Wagner even entered to play the ‘5’ late in the second half — burning his redshirt.
Donnal started in the exhibition, too, but that likely won't be the case all season.
“He knows just enough of what we're doing and is just solid enough right now,” Beilein said. “I would expect that would be a competitive spot all year long.”
Michigan’s start was slow, but when the rust came off and the wheels started turning, the Wolverines rolled into another century of Michigan basketball.