BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Heading into halftime on Wednesday with just a six-point lead, the No. 20 Michigan men’s basketball team seemed complacent on the court.
Beyond junior center Hunter Dickinson, the Wolverines seemed unsure of where to find additional offense. But coming out of the break, Michigan quickly showed that its contributors extend past Dickinson. Rather, its contributors extend from Dickinson, and to his surrounding shooters.
“(Dickinson’s) obviously a really good post player and attracts so much attention,” graduate guard Joey Baker said. “So for myself and other guys on the team, it makes our job easy. Once that double comes, we’re … shot ready and we have our selfless, unselfish guys on the team. So we’re gonna find open ball.”
Although the Wolverines understood that blueprint entering the game, they failed to execute it during the first 20 minutes. Those deficiencies manifested quickly as the Wolverines struggled to find their shot, going an abysmal 2-for-11 from the 3-point line.
But the team that came out in the second half looked completely different from the group that took the court at tip-off. It was a team that understood the need to refer back to its blueprint for guidance. Quickly, Michigan’s halftime adjustments helped nurture its shooting.
And those adjustments — which stem from Dickinson’s unselfishness — were extremely effective.
Less than a minute into the half, Dickinson found himself doubled in the paint. Pivoting, he looked toward the 3-point line, where freshman wing Jett Howard stood waiting. Dickinson passed the ball out to Howard, who swiftly buried a three and drew a foul for a four-point and-one.
With ball movement like that, the Wolverines wiped the slate clean for the second half, proving that their unselfish ball movement can convert into points on the board.
“Everyone’s making the right basketball plays,” Baker said. “And that spreads the wealth around and we’ve got good players, we’ve had competitive practices all preseason.”
With more cohesive ball movement and unselfish decision making, Michigan catapulted its field goal percentage from 48.6% to 58.3% with an 18-for-25 second half performance.
However, the biggest disparity between the Wolverines’ two halves came from behind the arc. Within the first two-and-a-half minutes after the break, Michigan had already surmounted their 3-point total from the previous half. As the Wolverines’ team-based game began to pay off, their selfless outlook elevated further.
“It’s great to have a team that’s very unselfish,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “… You have a lot of trust, and trust is one of our core values within our culture. … The unselfish play just happens organically because once you practice it and you see exactly the work the guys put in, they monitor each other.”
In the Wolverines’ 7-for-9 second half, 3-point shooting came from several players. But one shooter who especially shined in that role was Baker, who hit all three of his attempts after halftime.
Baker, who shot 40.5% from three at Duke before transferring to Michigan, adds an important element to this Wolverines team: a reliable sharp shooter. In his 14-point performance, Baker demonstrated that he can bring that same shooting prowess to Michigan. More importantly, he showed that he can bring that in a way that complements the Wolverines’ team-first approach.
But it wasn’t just Baker. Sophomore guard Kobe Bufkin added 14 points, Jett went 2-for-3 from deep and freshman guard Dug McDaniel recorded eight assists off the bench.
It’s no surprise that Dickinson, Michigan’s sole returning starter, will serve as the center of the Wolverines’ offense. What may have been less anticipated — but even more important — is the role he plays in facilitating the offense around him.
With the selfless core principle that Michigan exemplifies, the shooting that surrounds Dickinson could serve as the defining factor for the Wolverines this season. On Wednesday, their 31-point blowout win demonstrated that.