Terrance Williams has known Hunter Dickinson for almost a decade now.
The two, Williams says, have “been playing in close games since elementary school, middle school and high school.”
Neither player anticipated finding themselves in a tight game Sunday night, with Michigan basketball entering the day favored by more than 30 points against Oakland.
Yet the Wolverines trailed by four when Dickinson and Williams, former AAU teammates, checked into the game with 11:23 left in the second half.
“I’m not gonna lie, it was definitely scary,” Williams said of the game’s closeness.
Things could’ve been even scarier if not for Dickinson.
The true freshman scored 19 points — all in the second half and overtime — and tallied four assists in Michigan’s 81-71 win over Oakland.
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Without Dickinson, the story of Sunday’s game might’ve been about how the Wolverines suffered their biggest upset since a 2014 loss to NJIT. Instead, the discussion now revolves around what Michigan might have in its precocious 7-foot-1, 255-pound center.
“I think he’s built for it,” Williams said. “He’s been playing in these big games.”
Against Oakland’s unique 1-1-3 zone defense, Michigan turned the ball over 15 times in the first half. Then Dickinson took over.
After he entered the game in the second half, Dickinson accounted for 11 points in a 2:54 span. He scored nine points on a dunk, a pair of free throws, an “and-1” put-back and a layup, and also assised Williams for another basket.
“I think in the second half, my teammates just really were able to find me and put me in a great position to score,” Dickinson said. “Terrance started off with some good entry passes that started to get me going. Then my teammates just kept looking for me from there out, and I just kept trying to deliver for them.”
Dickinson played a part in Michigan’s final eight points in regulation, with two field goals and two assists. And his final run came in the extra period, as he scored six consecutive points to give the Wolverines some much-needed breathing room.
“That second half, he wanted that ball and we made an emphasis to get the ball inside to Hunter,” Livers said. “They gotta foul no matter what. And he’s a good free-throw shooter.”
Dickinson will face stiffer competition once Michigan begins conference play. He won’t have as much of a size advantage as he did against Oakland, and Big Ten teams might not foul Dickinson as often, especially after he was 7-for-9 from the line Sunday.
Yet his performance against the Grizzlies indicated that Dickinson is Michigan’s center of the future — and, perhaps, its center of the present.
He was poised and in control on offense, displaying nice touch around the rim. He had a clear rapport with Williams — sparking a two-man, high-low game that led to two key baskets — and Livers, who was on the receiving end of two Dickinson assists near the end of regulation.
Perhaps most impressive was Dickinson’s feel for the game. He knew where to be on offense against Oakland’s unique zone defense, both as a scorer and passer. And those are skills that will translate against any opponent.
“He has a high IQ — he sees plays before it happens,” said coach Juwan Howard. “He has a very good knack of finding the open man and being very patient when the ball is in his hands, as well.”
Now, the question is how long it will take for Dickinson to enter Michigan’s starting lineup. He has come off the bench in the Wolverines’ first two games and has been efficient in both; he scored 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting with five rebounds, an assist and a block against Bowling Green on Wednesday. Perhaps Michigan would’ve made an earlier run had Dickinson re-entered the game before the 11:23 mark of the second half.
The sample size is still small, but Dickinson has been Michigan’s most effective and efficient player on offense, and his size has created problems at the rim for opposing teams on both ends. And on Sunday, Dickinson was the main reason the Wolverines avoided a major upset.
“It means a lot for coach Howard and my teammates to trust me,” Dickinson said. “I think that’s the kind of team we have. Everybody’s so unselfish, everybody’s all about the team. Everybody’s all in. Coach Howard always talks about four feet in, so you gotta be all the way in with us, and that’s really what the team is.”
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan basketball shatters Oakland defense with Hunter Dickinson