There’s New Year’s resolutions, and then there’s the Michigan men’s basketball team’s performance against Maryland.
A mere three days after falling to Central Michigan on their home floor despite being heavy favorites — punctuating the Wolverines’ unimpressive start to the season — Michigan came out on New Year’s Day unrecognizable from its late 2022 self.
And — at least for a game — it was a whole new team.
A team with inconsistent effort throughout the season thus far came out of the gates at Crisler Center flying all over the floor. That renewed effort was evident early and often as the Wolverines (8-5 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) quickly buried the Terrapins (10-4, 1-2), surging to an emphatic, 81-46 victory.
What happened between losing to a mid-major and thumping a Big Ten opponent? It started with a players-only meeting.
“It’s deeper than basketball, we had to figure stuff out within ourselves,” freshman guard Dug McDaniel said. “ … We just got everything off our chests and we just let everybody know where our heads (are) at and how we feel. And I feel like that was very important, it got everyone on the same track.”
Michigan coach Juwan Howard and the rest of the staff weren’t involved, Howard only hearing about it inadvertently. While unknown if the sudden turnaround can be sustained, the meeting helped lead to it.
And that turnaround was evident right away, with Michigan taking Maryland out of the game as quickly as physically possible. The Wolverines opened on a 27-4 run, and held the Terrapins to just one made field goal through the first 13-plus minutes. Key to that run was junior center Hunter Dickinson, who finished with a season-high 32 points.
Michigan was not only red-hot from the field — making its first seven shots to open the game — but its high intensity led to effort plays and turnovers that kept Maryland off the board. Whether it was multiple Wolverines spiking the ball off Terrapins players before falling out of bounds to maintain possession, or sophomore guard Kobe Bufkin’s flurry of steals to get Michigan going in transition, the Wolverines — for once — played like the more enthusiastic team.
“The energy was a big reason why we got off to a good start on both ends of the floor,” Howard said. “Our guys were really in tune to getting out defensively and being disruptive, (and) they were very in tune to limiting our opponent to one-shot opportunities.”
Their defensive rotations were crisp, they physically boxed out Terrapins all game and they fed off each other’s energy. A newly energized group created more hustle plays, and those hustle plays made maintaining the strong start an easy task for Michigan.
And no matter how big the Wolverines’ lead got, that style of play continued. With six seconds left in the first half, McDaniel sprinted down the floor for a difficult, buzzer-beating layup off high glass. And with that bucket, the halftime scoreboard told the story of the game:
Michigan, 44. Maryland, a measly 13.
The 13 first-half points were tied for the lowest the Wolverines have allowed in a half in the modern era, but in the moment, Michigan wasn’t even aware of the gravity of it.
“We didn’t even look at the scoreboard, we were just having fun out there,” McDaniel said of the halftime score. “We (were) just playing basketball.”
With a lead so big — growing as large as 38 in the second half — the Wolverines didn’t have to pay all that much attention to the score throughout much of the contest.
And after hitting what looked like rock bottom against the Chippewas, Michigan found a way to bounce back.
“Today, it was lovely seeing the team (respond),” Howard said. “… Being the most dialed-in, being physical, doing it without fouling and at the same time bringing the effort.”
So on New Year’s Day, the Wolverines had a chance to turn the page. The demoralizing upset to Central Michigan? The 7-5 start? Consistent struggles against mid-majors? With conference playing resuming in the new year, Michigan had a chance to begin rewriting its story.
And with a renewed effort and energy on the floor, the Wolverines did so decisively.