As the second half played out and Michigan’s offense continued to click on all cylinders, Maryland threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Wolverines in hopes to stall them.
Yet the Terrapins’ attempts at alternating between zone defense, man-to-man and variations of press defenses to slow down Michigan’s attack proved futile. On New Year’s Eve in College Park, there would be no stopping the Wolverines’ offense, which hummed to an 84-point performance, 11 more than Maryland’s total.
Even though senior forward Isaiah Livers — who entered the game as the team’s leading scorer with 15.4 points per game — battled through an ankle injury and managed just one field goal, the Wolverines hardly missed a beat.
“I think that just shows how deep we are as a team,” graduate transfer guard Mike Smith said. “If one person’s not having a good game, the next person can step up. That just shows that coach believes in everybody who he puts out there, they’re capable of playing. It showed today.”
Four players scored in double-figures, headlined by freshman center Hunter Dickinson. On Tuesday, Dickinson told reporters that he felt “disrespected” when Maryland, his home-state team, didn’t push hard after him on the recruiting trail. Dickinson exacted his revenge on the court with a dominating 26-point, 11-rebound performance.
“He’s 7-foot-1,” Smith said. “It’s just that simple. He’s 7-foot-1, big body and likes to score the ball, so it makes my job that much easier. Just give him the ball and get out of the way.”
Dickinson torched an undersized Terrapins interior from the start. Rather than matching Dickinson with 7-foot-2 Chol Marial, Maryland opted to play small-ball, pairing 6-foot-7 Donta Scott with 6-foot-8 Jairus Hamilton. The duo did little to flummox Dickinson, who shot 10-of-11 from the field.
Though Michigan’s offense may have revolved around Dickinson, the performance was by no means a one-man show. Through the season’s first seven games, it appeared at times that the Wolverines were using Dickinson’s overpowering game as a crutch, a tactic that worked against lesser-opponents but wouldn’t be sustainable come the gauntlet that is Big Ten play.
Against Maryland, the Wolverines showed they were more than Dickinson, finding production from up-and-down the lineup.
One of the players to step up was sophomore wing Franz Wagner, who looked controlled and fluid with the ball in his hands. Building off a season-high 20 point performance against Nebraska, Wagner affirmed that his early-season funk is behind him Thursday, notching 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including a pair of 3-pointers.
“That is the Franz that we saw in the summer,” Dickinson said. “When I first came in, I was like, ‘That’s a lottery pick for sure.’ He’s starting to get in the rhythm with the offense, all his touches and stuff like that.”
Smith completed the triumvirate of offensive production, orchestrating Michigan’s offense to near-production. In his best game of the young season, Smith tallied 16 points, six rebounds and six assists in 38 minutes. He credited the recent success to a growing comfort in Howard’s offensive system.
“It’s just applying new techniques to my game and adjusting to the team,” Smith said. “And I think I’ve been trying to figure it out and I think I’m figuring it out. Coach is instilling the confidence in me that I need and I’m just out there playing the game that I love the way that I know to play the game. And it’s been working. So if it’s not broke, then why would you fix it?”
Added Michigan coach Juwan Howard: “Tonight was an example of a guy looking to make plays for himself and others. We’re going to need him throughout the year making plays like the plays he made tonight.”
As the calendar flips to 2021, the Big Ten schedule is officially in full swing for the Wolverines. Following a balanced offensive clinic against the Terrapins, Michigan enters the stretch looking all the more potent.
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