Sophomore center Hunter Dickinson tallied 27 points and six rebounds in Michigan's win over Buffalo. Grace Beal/Daily. Buy this photo.

As the ball reached its apex, officially signaling the start of the Wolverines’ season, sophomore center Hunter Dickinson batted it back to his teammates with ease. His elevated 7-foot-1 frame and 7-foot-3 wingspan seemed to dwarf Buffalo’s center, Brock Bertram, who stood just two inches shorter than Dickinson.

All night, Dickinson created an unavoidable mismatch. When the Bulls switched a more athletic Josh Mballa on to guard him, Dickinson used his size to bully the 6-foot-7 forward in the paint. Double-team him, and Dickinson kicks it out to one of his guards behind the arc or a winger streaking in for an unmarked bucket; or, of course, Dickinson sometimes just puts it up in spite of the double team for his own basket. 

“I feel like it makes it easier (to score) because when Hunter gets the ball, everybody focuses on him,” sophomore forward Terrance Williams II said. “So they either release up at three or cut to the basket, where if they do double … Hunter’s a good passer out of the post. So he makes all of us better to be honest.”

Williams was a benefactor of the attention Dickinson garnered, dropping 15 points himself in a career high as a Wolverine. On multiple occasions, Dickinson used Williams as an outlet, both on the wing and streaking towards the rim.

While dropping 27 points and pulling in six rebounds, Dickinson somehow had a quiet game — well, as quiet as a performance just one point shy of tying a career-best can be. There weren’t many flashy plays. No long streaks of dominance. No gym-shaking blocks. But still, his statline came out boastful.

His sneaky superiority is predicated on the role he plays on this team. He’s its bailout option and safe choice. What better way to salvage an offensive possession than throw it down low to a 7-footer? And in a somewhat sloppy outing — as a first game almost always is expected to be — the Wolverines found themselves using their failsafe time after time.

And on 11 of 17 chances, Dickinson delivered. Still, it wasn’t his best performance, with Dickinson himself agreeing:

“I think I played pretty well. I don’t think I played a perfect game out there. I think there’s definitely some things that I can improve on. Free throw shooting is definitely one of them. But, you know, I think I even have room to grow off this game.”

Dickinson went 5-for-8 from the line — 62.5% — which was not far off the 73.9% free-throw percentage he shot last year. Even so, Dickinson was disappointed in his performance, missing short on the three he failed to convert on, including a 1-and-1 late in the game. 

For a big body like Dickinson that’s hard to stop in the paint, free-throw shooting is crucial to the threat he brings to the court. A high percentage from the charity stripe can prevent teams from fouling to stop him from scoring.

Michigan coach Juwan Howard had a different tone when discussing Dickinson’s night, focusing a lot more on the positive takeaways than the few potential improvements.

“I loved his performance tonight,” Howard said. “He’s one of the best players on our team. And he’s worked extremely hard in the offseason.”

But as Dickinson mentioned, that work in the offseason wasn’t enough. Twenty-seven points weren’t enough. And 5-for-8 from the line definitely wasn’t enough.

“That’s something that I’m gonna look at with the film and stuff like that,” Dickinson said. “ … I think there’s still room for me to improve out there.”