Dawkins looks good as Michigan tops Northern

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — With Michigan so bruised and battered the second half of last season, Aubrey Dawkins got his shot and took advantage.

This year, he looks to be a go-to guy — even with everybody healthy.

And he’s off to a guard start, scoring 15, including two crowd-pleasing dunks as Michigan had little issue with Northern Michigan in a 70-44 win in the season opener at Crisler Center on Friday night.

BOX SCORE: Michigan 70, Northern Michigan 44

Michigan was a bit sloppy early, but seemed to get a spark 13 minutes into the opening half when on a missed 3-pointer from Duncan Robinson, Dawkins went up high, grabbed the rebound with his left hand, his off hand, and shoved it down, to the delight of a small but hearty crowd.

“It’s always an energy booster, but I mean, when Aubrey does that, we’re so used to him doing it, it’s like, ‘Aubrey’s doing it again,’ ” guard Caris LeVert said. “He’s got some more stuff in the tank for the fans.”

Dawkins added another highlight dunk in the second half, on an alley-oop from Derrick Walton Jr., and finished 6-of-7 from the field, 2-of-3 on 3-pointers. He added six rebounds, tops for Michigan.

It was the rebounds, actually, that impressed coach John Beilein most — considering the Wolverines were an awful rebounding team a year ago, and still only tied the Wildcats in that department, 32-32, on Friday.

“That’s something he wasn’t doing last year,” Beilein said of Dawkins.

LeVert, back from a foot injury and his decision to wait one more year to join the NBA, looked like his old self. He scored a team-high 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting, and added five assists.

Ten players scored for Michigan, including German freshman Moritz Wagner, who scored his first basket and will not redshirt. He also had two rebounds.

The Wolverines never trailed and led by 10 at the half against a team that was within five at the half in an exhibition against Michigan State last week.

“They used their length and their players really smart,” said Northern Michigan coach Bill Sall, who called LeVert and Dawkins a “great 1-2 punch. The bodies they throw out there are tough to overcome.”

Northern Michigan has some good shooters, particularly freshman Naba Echols and sophomore Jordan Perez, who scored 13 apiece.

But Michigan dominated in the paint, outscoring undersized Northern Michigan, 32-16; the Wolverines had four blocks to the Wildcats’ none.

That’s another especially pleasing state for the Wolverines, who long under Beilein have been known more for what they do on the perimeter.

“We can shoot the ball,” said Dawkins, “but it’s nice to get to the basket.”

Spike Albrecht, coming off hip surgery, wasn’t moving anything close to what fans are used to seeing, especially in the first half, and he played sparingly in the second half — but when he was in, he produced.

He scored steals on back-to-back possessions late in the game, taking the first the length of the court for his first field goal of the season. He probably would’ve taken the other one all the way, too, except he slipped, fell out of bounds and slammed the ball to the court in frustration. He finished with seven points.

Dawkins, LeVert, Walton, Mark Donnal and Kameron Chatman started for Michigan; Donnal and Chatman had six points each, Walton four. Donnal got the better of Ricky Doyle in the battle of Michigan forwards.

Having LeVert on the floor, rather than on the shelf like last year or in the NBA as some projected, was a most welcome sight for Beilein.

“It’s not like you’re wracking your brain,” Beilein said, “trying to find ways to score. That’s huge for us.”

Michigan returns to action at home Monday night against Elon.