SAN ANTONIO — All things considered, it was a quiet night for Hunter Dickinson.
The sophomore center didn’t really make any shots to send Michigan fans into a frenzy and transform him into a maize and blue showman.
Dickinson still talked, of course — he always does — but he just didn’t quite have it on Thursday night. No one on Michigan really did. That’s why Michigan’s season ended in the Sweet Sixteen. That’s why he wasn’t his normal, talkative self at the podium after the game. And that’s why when Dickinson was asked about whether or not he felt that he and the rest of the team left a lot of points on the floor due to poor layup making, he didn’t say much.
“Yeah, I think it just wasn’t our night out there.”
Is there really much else to say? The Wolverines shots just didn’t fall, and Villanova’s — at least more so — did. Dickinson knows that firsthand. Ten of his 16 shots missed, the most on the team. Most weren’t even jumpers, a lot of them were actually right at the rim, the spot he usually dominates.
Just not tonight.
The Wildcats knew Dickinson was coming; their coach, Jay Wright, gameplanned for him and had nothing but positive things to say about him after the game.
“We didn’t run into anybody anywhere like Hunter Dickinson,” Wright said. “Man, this dude is a handful… I think he’s the best we’ve run into this year.”
On film, Wright saw what everyone in the Big Ten saw all year and probably shuddered. A seven-footer with elite postmoves, a deep understanding of the game and the smooth touch of a guard. The type of player that could almost single-handedly will Michigan to victory. Dickinson could be that good.
Just not tonight.
It’s an especially surprising circumstance given that Dickinson was supposed to dominate this game. He stands five inches taller than the tallest member of Villanova’s starting lineup.
To counter this, Wright mentioned that a large part of his gameplan was to get the Wolverines off their rhythm, especially in the post with Dickinson. The Wildcats spent most of the game fronting him and trying to deny him the ball. The plan succeeded in making it difficult for Michigan to find its star big man in an advantageous position.
In short, Villanova did throw Dickinson out of his rhythm. Maybe that’s why the shots that are normally so easy for him just didn’t fall.
As Michigan coach Juwan Howard sat at the podium, face stoic, he also tried to find the reason his team struggled so much where it usually didn’t. But just like everyone, he too, couldn’t quite place it.
“Yes, some of the spots that he was pushed off the block,” Howard said. “But overall we got some good looks at the basket. Unfortunately, it just didn’t go our way.”
As Howard spoke, Dickinson sat to his right. He held his head high, but looked beyond into the room, occasionally moving his head up and down as if to nod in agreement. But for the most part, his eyes stared straight ahead.
His season was over, and if he’s still insistent on trying to make it to the NBA this offseason, so too is his time with the Wolverines.
When asked to, Dickinson tried to sum up his feelings toward the season, never an easy thing to do when the emotions are so fresh, but he still tried. He talked about the preseason expectations, the fall from that pedestal, how the team could’ve easily given up after their rocky start. But then he pivoted.
“We fought as hard as we could, and to be able to make the Sweet Sixteen and be one of the last Sixteen teams standing,” Dickinson said. “We obviously didn’t reach our ultimate goal, but (I’m) just proud of how we fought back and battled through adversity.”
The fact that Michigan was even in this position, after all that had happened in the season, is still something of note. Especially when in order to get here, Dickinson helped lead the Wolverines to two of their best wins of the season. A strong performance in a comeback win against Colorado State and a truly dominant showing in an upset victory over Tennessee.
Two of Dickinson’s best showings of the season came in back-to-back games when his team needed him the most.
Dickinson had made a habit of dominating the biggest stages, of performing when he was required to, no matter what was thrown at him. He had done it so many times before, and he had shown that he was capable of leading Michigan to victory.
Just not tonight.