With five minutes remaining in the Michigan men’s basketball team’s season opener against Buffalo, the Wolverines sat at a crossroads. Sophomore center Hunter Dickinson and fifth-year guard DeVante’ Jones had both just missed the front-ends of one-and-ones, and a lead that was once as large as 21 had been cut to just five.
But then, sophomore forward Terrance Williams II struck.
After Jones grabbed a defensive rebound, he pushed the pace and found Williams open from deep. Knocking the shot down, he extended Michigan’s lead to eight and brought the Crisler Center to its feet. From there, the No. 6 Wolverines (1-0) staved off the Bulls (0-1) to win, 88-76.
“When I came back to the bench, that’s what everybody said — Eli, Hunter — that was just a big time three,” Williams said. “I did feel like the energy, the life just sucked out of them when I hit that three, they called that timeout. So I think it was a big-time three.”
Williams’ 3-pointer wasn’t the first big shot he had hit, though. In the first half, with freshman wing Caleb Houstan and Jones on the bench with two fouls apiece and fifth-year guard Eli Brooks temporarily on the bench, Michigan turned to an inexperienced lineup of mostly rotation players.
During a four-minute stretch in which the Wolverines were without that trio, they outscored Buffalo by eight. Williams showed off his improved athleticism and 3-point shooting during that stretch by driving to the basket, making difficult layups and knocking down an and-one 3-pointer that gave Michigan its largest lead of the game.
“I love how he competes,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “I loved it last season. I loved this summer how he came in early before class started on July 1. … He changed his diet. He also worked extremely hard on his game. Coach knows it, staff knew it, his teammates saw it, and so when a guy has a game like the game he had this year … I just know and we all trust that’s what he’s gonna provide.”
Dickinson led the team with 12 first half points, but it felt like Williams and freshman forward Moussa Diabate, who both had seven first half points, stole the show in the half.
The Wolverines took a 15-point lead into halftime, but the Bulls started the second half hot, scoring in five of their first six possessions to cut the lead to seven with Michigan’s starters on the floor. To make matters worse for the Wolverines, Jones picked up his third foul less than three minutes into the half. Michigan would once again have to rely on its depth.
The turning point came from none other than Williams.
After Dickinson took over for a bit, scoring six-straight Wolverines points, Buffalo forward Jeenathan Williams kept the Bulls in the game with seven of his own to get the deficit back to six.
But Williams shut down any momentum Buffalo had gained with a turnaround jumper of his own. Two minutes later, he hit the 3-pointer that proved to be the dagger.
“He’s a good player,” Dickinson said. “That’s what he does. He’s a clutch player. You know what you’re gonna get from him.”
While Dickinson was the focal point of Wolverines’ offense in the second half, scoring 15 of his 27 points, Michigan needed someone else to step up with multiple starters in foul trouble.
Prior to the Wolverines’ exhibition game against Wayne State, Howard told reporters that this was the deepest team he’s had in his three years in Ann Arbor, and in their season-opener, it was put to the test.
Williams proved him right, helping Michigan avoid a devastating upset to start its season.