With most students headed home for the holidays, the Crisler Center student section was looking particularly sparse, but the Maize Rage members who did attend were treated with an early gift.
Junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. possessed the ball with space in front of him, but instead of driving to the basket himself, he bounced it to Aubrey Dawkins, who delivered a monster 360-degree dunk that got the crowd on its feet. Thirty seconds later, Dawkins led the Wolverines into the locker room for halftime, with junior guard Andrew Dakich closely following him behind and playfully whipping him with a towel.
The dunk was emblematic of the 105-46 rout of Youngstown State (5-7), in which the Wolverines (9-3) rolled over the Penguins with 62-percent shooting and a well-balanced attack that featured five players scoring double digits.
“I felt like, the way we were running the floor, the way we were defending, it was like some of the better teams (Michigan) has had in the past,” said Michigan coach John Beilein.
Moments before Dawkins completed his wide-open dunk, he hit a 3-pointer from the corner, and moments before that, he displayed his athleticism with another dunk. This time, the drive to the net was crowded, but that didn’t change things. Walton fed him the ball for an acrobatic, one-handed alley-oop over a Penguin who left Dawkins lying on the court beneath the net to be mobbed by his teammates.
“It’s a lot of fun when you get the crowd into it,” Dawkins said. “(Derrick and I) have played enough open gym basketball and just enough games. I know the kind of connection we have and if he sees me with a chance to throw down a ‘cool, monster dunk’ or whatever they call it, he’s gonna make it happen.”
Though fans were entertained by the dunk itself, Beilein found other takeaways to key on.
“We’ve just been having this growth mindset … I’ve seen a couple of glimpses lately. Like Aubrey’s dunk there was not about the dunk on the break where they threw it up to him, it was about his first three steps. He is lazy getting out of the box. He thinks he can win the race at the end. As soon as you see the rebound, your first three steps, you win the race. He took those first three steps, now he sees what happens.”
Dawkins wasn’t in the starting lineup, but left a mark on the box score even beyond the dunks. He came into the game for redshirt sophomore Duncan Robinson at the 8:50 mark of the first half and quickly made his presence known.
In the next four minutes, he scored five points and grabbed two boards before being subbed back out, and by the end of the game, he had 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting.
“A couple hours before the game, Coach B pulled Aubrey into the film room and showed him he wasn’t running as hard as he could on the fast break,” said senior guard Caris LeVert. “I think today he really showed that and he was rewarded for that, the game rewarded him.”
Walton, who fed Dawkins both dunks, finished the game with a triple-double, scoring 10 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds in 29 minutes. Walton is the fifth Wolverine in Michigan basketball history to complete such a feat, but he’s not the first player to do so this week. LeVert finished with a triple-double just Tuesday night against Northern Kentucky.
“(Walton) is really seeing the floor,” LeVert said. “He’s seeing the shooters, he’s seeing the bigs under the basket. He really has great vision and he’s also an option to score the ball as well.”
LeVert finished Saturday with 19 points on 7-for-8 shooting, contributing 10 points to a 16-6 run in the beginning of the second half that left Michigan with a 71-35 lead.
After the Wolverines had well secured their lead, redshirt freshman forward D.J. Wilson checked into the game in the final six minutes. It was his first time seeing the court since he suffered an ankle sprain in practice over a week ago. Though the game was already decided, Wilson went full-tilt, scoring 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting. The performance added more clarity to the ‘5’ position.
Sophomore Ricky Doyle started at center, shooting for 3-for-3 for eight points, but only played 13 minutes. Freshman Moritz Wagner subbed in for Doyle early in the game, playing the rest of the minutes at the position.
But on a night when a teammate scored a triple-double and another scored 19 points, Dawkins still managed to steal the show.
He admitted that he doesn’t watch enough “SportsCenter” to watch for himself, but he’s sure he’ll hear about it if he makes the highlight reel.