STATE COLLEGE — Just minutes into the second half, it became glaringly obvious that the Michigan men’s basketball team wouldn’t be leaving Happy Valley with a win. A barrage of 3-pointers from Penn State quickly spiraled the Wolverines into a funnel of lethargy. The game was all but over.
In a similar fashion, so was junior center Hunter Dickinson’s afternoon.
With 14 minutes left in the game, Dickinson moped over to the Michigan bench — met by a chorus of “overrated” chants from the Nittany Lion’s student section — where he remained for the rest of the afternoon.
“Regardless of what he put up today, we still should have picked up,” freshman wing Jett Howard said. “People are going to have off nights… That’s (on) us as a team to pick them up, no matter if he has six or 25 points.”
Dickinson did in fact finish with a season-low six points. Adding just two rebounds and three assists — while committing two turnovers in the process — he recorded his worst performance of the season in his team’s worst performance of conference play.
Dickinson’s struggles can be partly attributed to the relentless double teams thrown at him down low. Whenever he caught the ball in the post, a Penn State defender pinched down, forcing him to kick it out and find the open man on the perimeter.
“It’s no surprise,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “Every team in the league is going to throw a double team at him. … He also understands that there will be times when you have to be unselfish and pass the ball on time on target without turning it over.”
While Dickinson proved capable of that in the opening minutes of the contest, frequently finding Jett or another shooter on the perimeter, that ability didn’t hold for the rest of the game. The Nittany Lions’ defensive schemes quickly rattled Dickinson. On the rare occasion that he wasn’t doubled, Dickinson started to kick the ball back out to the perimeter almost instantly, as if anticipating a Penn State double team that never materialized. And when he did decide to turn and release his signature hook shot, it was rushed, often missing the mark.
“We will go back and look at film,” Juwan said. “I will go back and show Hunter that there are ways that when he’s being a little unselfish, he has to be a little more selfish when he catches, especially in the paint.”
With the first half waning, Dickinson demonstrated that inability to know when to make a play and when to defer to his teammates. As the Wolverines found themselves on the wrong side of a dominant run late in the first half, Dickinson failed to respond. He launched a contested 3-pointer that missed the mark and then threw a wayward pass out to the perimeter that Nittany Lion guard Andrew Funk intercepted and took coast-to-coast for an and-1 on the next possession.
As Funk’s layup slipped through the nylon and the whistle echoed, Dickinson’s head slouched forward, eyes fixated on the hardwood.
It simply wasn’t his afternoon. Dickinson’s lackluster performance was a microcosm of Michigan’s as a whole. He didn’t respond to the dominant stretch that Penn State produced at the end of the first half and that slump continued after the intermission. Much like the Wolverines as a whole, Dickinson didn’t bounce back.
“I feel like I’m a really good player, too,” Dickinson said after battling Purdue center Zach Edey Thursday. “So, as somebody who thinks highly of themselves, you want to go against the best.”
But in this case, in this much-needed game for the Wolverines, he wasn’t a really good player. The Nittany Lions, despite exceeding expectations, are not the best. And while Dickinson usually brings so much to the table for the Wolverines, this afternoon, he struggled.
And as he sat slumped in his chair on the sidelines while watching the game wind down from the bench, Penn State students hammered that realization into him as they chanted “overrated” from directly behind him.