As senior guard Eli Brooks’s three-point attempt clanked off the left side of the rim, Hunter Dickinson ranged his way out to the baseline from the paint to secure an offensive rebound after tipping the ball up to himself. As two Wisconsin players swarmed him, the 7-foot-2 freshman center whipped a pass out to the left wing.

The result? A triple by senior forward Isaiah Livers to put the Wolverines up 59-57 with just under three minutes remaining. Dickinson went on to provide another go-ahead bucket on a putback layup just one possession later to cap off a 67-59 win for the Wolverines in their first game in 23 days, cementing himself as an integral part of Michigan’s victory.

His teammates have often gushed over his ability to play the role of a game-breaker. In the first half of the season, that manifested in Dickinson backing down opposing big men as if they were turnstiles and scoring at will in the paint. Some nights, it was his passing ability out of the post to set his teammates up for perimeter looks. Other times, it was his post presence in Michigan’s backcourt, swatting opponents’ shots with authority and disrupting any looks inside.

Against the Badgers on Sunday, Michigan saw it all from its freshman star, that clutch-time spurt and second half explosion emblematic of a young player learning how to thrive in any situation he’s put in.

“I’m getting goosebumps talking about it right now,” Livers said. “A freshman doing his hook shots, post stuff is not falling for him. Let’s find other ways. This dude is going from block to block rebounding. He’s grabbing rebounds from under the rim while being pushed out with one hand. That is very special.”

Dickinson had perhaps his most well rounded game of his career against Wisconsin, scoring 11 points, grabbing 15 rebounds and blocking five shots. Despite taking only nine shots and sinking just three, Dickinson’s fingerprints were as visible on Michigan’s win as his towering 7-foot-2 frame was on the court. 

Due to a series of screens and defensive switches, Dickinson found himself matched up against the Badgers’ D’Mitrik Trice on a few occasions. With a smaller guard as his assignment, it appeared that Dickinson was at a disadvantage against the quick and agile Trice. Instead, he stood his ground and disrupted a series of drives and shots at the rim from the elusive guard.

“It shows the level of toughness, but, more importantly, (that) he’s a smart player,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “It’s not easy to do. As quick as he is and as talented as he is, being a 7-foot-2 guy, I thought that was big for us.”

On the offensive side of the floor, Dickinson proved equally as effective. Against a tough Wisconsin defense that allows a Big Ten-low 62.5 points per game, Dickinson came away with five of Michigan’s 11 offensive rebounds, oftentimes running out to the baseline to track down loose balls. He and his teammates’ hustle on the offensive glass helped generate 15 second-chance points, ultimately proving to be a massive difference maker in an eight-point win.

Dickinson’s biggest play of the night came with just under three minutes left, when he worked his way out of a double team to find Livers for the go-ahead 3-pointer. Dickinson, who has routinely been stifled by double teams in recent games, appears to be getting more comfortable working against multiple defenders.

“If they want to double team us, I think we’ve shown that it’s really not a good strategy for teams,” Dickinson said. “There’s so much talent on this team that if you double team me, you’re leaving a guy that’s going to make a lot of money somewhere else in basketball wide open and that’s really not a good thing, whether it’s Eli, Mike, Zay, Franz, Chaundee, all those guys are going to go on to play overseas or in the NBA. I don’t think it’s a smart decision to leave those guys wide open.”

In its biggest game of the season, the Wolverines seem to have rediscovered their mojo following a 23-day COVID-19 pause, providing a stifling defensive game plan and knocking down timely shots to overcome a key conference opponent. And just as before the pause, Dickinson was in the middle of it all.

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