CHAMPAIGN — As junior center Hunter Dickinson lined up for the second tipoff of the game in the Michigan men’s basketball team’s double overtime loss to Illinois, he’d had a relatively quiet night.
Or as quiet a night as Dickinson can have.
Ending regulation with 19 points and 15 rebounds, the majority of the Wolverines’ offensive production came outside the paint at the hands of sophomore guard Kobe Bufkin and freshman guard Dug McDaniel. But as overtime progressed, and Michigan entered a second overtime, the game plan was clear.
Get the ball to Dickinson.
“I don’t have to tell Hunter anything,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “All I had to tell him is, ‘hey, we’re going to you big fella’. He delivers every time and that’s why I’m always in the trenches with Hunter Dickinson. One of the best players in college basketball, and I’m happy to say that he’s on our side.”
It was clear he got the message. Putting his team on his back, Dickinson backed Fighting Illini players down in the post and took any shot he wanted. But even Dickinson’s valiant effort wasn’t enough to overcome Illinois.
Opening the game with a pull-up 3-pointer from the top of the key, it seemed as if Dickinson would have a dominant night. But falling into more of a facilitator role throughout the first half, he struggled to find any consistency.
With a game-high five turnovers — three of which committed in the first half — Dickinson floundered in the post. And without much post production, the Wolverines were forced to look elsewhere for their offense. And for the majority of the game, it worked, keeping the Illini in check.
But as the clock wore down in the second half and the score remained tied — with Dickinson having the opportunity for a game winner that instead glanced off the rim — it was clear something needed to change in overtime if the Wolverines had any chance of surviving Illinois’ overtime attack.
And that’s what Dickinson did.
With the guards looking to feed Dickinson on every offensive possession, he capitalized on the ample post touches. Ending with a game-high 31 points — 12 of which coming in the two overtime periods — Dickinson did everything in his power to keep Michigan’s hopes of escaping Champaign with a win alive.
But down the stretch, the Wolverines’ plan faltered.
With freshman wing Jett Howard and freshman forward Tarris Reed Jr. on the bench after fouling out of the game, Michigan’s offense once again struggled. Dickinson continued to work in the post, but without Bufkin or Jett’s late game success continuing into double overtime, there was only so much Dickinson could do.
“(The team was) getting me the ball pretty much every possession,” Dickinson said. “So it’s pretty hard for other guys to score when I’m shooting and so I think it was just a matter of the game plan.”
And while the game plan was originally successful, the Illini figured it out quickly. Double and triple teaming Dickinson in the paint all throughout overtime, it was clear they weren’t going to let Dickinson have his way.
Instead, they snatched the win right out from under Dickinson and Michigan, in turn snapping their win streak and sending them back to Ann Arbor with their postseason hopes in question once again.