He ambled through pregame warmups like a player expecting to spend the evening on the sideline, stretching and jogging and doing nothing that required him to break a sweat.
But when the game began Tuesday — as Michigan basketball hosted Maryland at Crisler Center — center Hunter Dickinson assumed the spotlight he has grown accustomed to owning.
An emphatic 83-64 win over the lowly Terrapins felt restorative for a team that played just three games in the last four weeks. Led by Dickinson, who poured in a game-high 21 points on 10-for-14 shooting, the Wolverines had four players reach double-figure scoring in the type of balanced attack needed to succeed in the Big Ten. They limited Maryland to 30.4% shooting in the first half to build an insurmountable lead in what finished as a wire-to-wire victory.
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"I think it was super fun out there for the entire team," Dickinson said. "When we’re playing like that, we’re a really hard team to beat. I think that team out there is probably the reason why we were ranked so high to begin the season. I think we showed flashes of what we can become."
Any questions about Dickinson’s importance to the offense were erased after 60 seconds Tuesday, by which point Michigan’s star had scored the opening basket on a give-and-go from guard DeVante’ Jones and fired a beautiful cross-court pass to small forward Caleb Houstan for a 3-pointer on the next possession.
It was an idyllic start for U-M four days removed from a glacial offensive performance in the loss to Illinois. Not only had Dickinson made an immediate impact to invigorate both his teammates and the crowd, but Houstan, the not-so-sharp sharpshooter, swished his first attempt from beyond the arc to swell his chest with confidence. Dickinson would add three more assists before the first half expired in a beautiful display of court vision against steady double teams from the Terrapins, and Houstan put forth his most assertive stretch in weeks by attacking the basket an opening 4-for-4 from the field.
"When you’re out there competing and the first play, the ball hits your hands and then your first shot goes in, you feel a lot of relief," coach Juwan Howard said of Houstan. "You feel good about yourself. And you feel like it’s going to be a good night."
Inspired, perhaps, by their first home game in a month following a trio of scheduling changes — games against Michigan State and Purdue were postponed, while a non-conference tilt with Purdue Fort Wayne was canceled — the Wolverines married efficient offense with the same defensive intensity flashed against the Illini. Howard’s team feasted on loose ball handling from the Terrapins, who turned the ball over 10 times in the first half alone, and countered with crisply run sets yielding 44 points in the paint. Michigan tallied an assist on 54% of its made baskets, and Dickinson led the team with six of them.
Though Dickinson regained enough stamina to return, power forward Brandon Johns Jr. missed his third consecutive game. He went through a robust warmup prior to tipoff against Illinois last Friday and again Tuesday prior to tipoff against Maryland but remained on the bench for both contests.
But the frontcourt pairing of Dickinson and Diabate (14 points, six rebounds) generated plenty of offense against the smaller lineups employed by interim Maryland coach Danny Manning, who assumed control when Mark Turgeon stepped down eight games into the season. Dickinson opened the second half with a flurry of points and assists reminiscent of his sequence to begin the evening: a baseline spin for an easy layup followed by another cross-court pass to Houstan for an uncontested 3-pointer.
He would score eight of Michigan’s next 11 points by marking his territory on the left side of the paint and disposing of the Terrapins with soft hooks, short jumpers and a feathery touch.
"I didn’t really know how my wind was going to be," Dickinson said. "Still trying to get my legs back and stuff like that. But it was a good first game back for sure."
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan basketball's Hunter Dickinson back; 83-64 win over Maryland