It’s a game the Michigan men’s basketball team was supposed to win.
Heading into Tuesday’s matchup in Ann Arbor, Maryland sat at 13th in the Big Ten, one of just three teams behind the Wolverines in the conference. But after dropping so many “supposed to win” games this season, there was no way to trust Michigan to deliver.
This time, though, it came through.
Fueled by the return of sophomore center Hunter Dickinson, the Wolverines (8-7 overall, 2-3 Big Ten) trounced the Terrapins (9-9, 1-6), 83-64, winning a necessary game as they attempt to re-route their lackluster season.
“When we’re playing like that, we’re a really hard team to beat,” Dickinson said. “I think that team out there is probably the reason why we ranked so high to begin the season. I think we showed flashes of what we can become.”
From the moment the game tipped off, Michigan appeared to be in the driver’s seat. As if harking Dickinson’s return from his COVID-related absence, graduate transfer guard DeVante’ Jones fed him the ball down low, where Dickinson proceeded to hit a turnaround jumper for the game’s first points.
The first half was highlighted by standout play from freshman wing Caleb Houstan. Houstan — who entered the game a collective 2-for-21 from beyond the arc and 11-for-42 from the field over his last five games — caught the ball on Michigan’s second possession of the game and hit a 3-pointer that launched into an uncharacteristically strong night of basketball. Houstan didn’t slow down, ending the first half with 10 points on a perfect 4-for-4 from the field and going on to finish with 16 on the day.
“Caleb hit a lot of shots today,” Jones said. “He ain’t been shooting the ball as well, but him shooting the ball with confidence makes (creating offense) a lot easier.”
Paired with a staunch defensive performance that forced 10 first half Maryland turnovers, the Wolverines went into the locker room up 39-19 at halftime.
“I loved our defensive disposition, especially in the first five minutes of the ballgame,” Howard said. “… Our guys were really active getting deflections into their man, really causing a lot of disruption.”
The second half did not start with the same defensive proficiency that permeated the first. At the 10-minute mark, the Terrapins were 10-for-14 from the field and 3-for-5 from three, already scoring six more points in the 10-minute span than they did in the entire first half.
Michigan’s offense, however, kept on rolling. Dickinson put up 16 points in the second half, culminating in a total of 21. Freshman big man Moussa Diabate added to that effort, racking up three hard-earned offensive boards and playing defense with both tenacity and finesse.
In what was perhaps the most impressive stat from the Wolverine offense, Michigan tallied 12 assists in the second half and 19 on the game, nearly quadrupling the measly five the Wolverines came away with on Friday against Illinois.
The assists were spread out across the entire Michigan cast, but one unlikely figure stood alone at the top with six assists: Dickinson.
When asked about Dickinson’s passing, Jones let out a whistle before launching into praise.
“It’s crazy,” Jones said. “What’d he have, six assists? That’s crazy for a 7-footer. I feel like he’s the best big passer in the country.”
In the end, Michigan cruised along to a sizable 19-point victory. With three minutes left, Michigan coach Juwan Howard made the call to pull his starters, as Dickinson, Houstan and Jones took the bench for the remainder of the game.
Dickinson, though, never sat down, cheering on his teammates from the baseline while waving a towel. After two postponements and a missed game, he was back, and the Wolverines surely felt his presence.