Young 'DMV boys' Hunter Dickinson, Terrance Williams team up to rescue Michigan

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Michigan has an abundance of experience, an area coach Juwan Howard pointed to as a strength before the season. Eli Brooks, Chaundee Brown, Austin Davis, Isaiah Livers and Mike Smith have combined to play in 445 games, with 259 starts, in their college careers.

Yet when the Wolverines found themselves on the ropes against Oakland on Sunday, they relied on their youth to punch their way past the Golden Grizzlies.

Freshman center Hunter Dickinson and freshman forward Terrance Williams II keyed a second-half comeback as the former AAU teammates helped Michigan crack Oakland’s 1-3-1 zone and escape with an 81-71 overtime victory in a game it entered as 30-plus point favorites.

Freshmen Hunter Dickinson (1) and Terrance Williams II (5) helped Michigan survive an upset scare against Oakland.

According to Howard, the decision to lean on the two rookies — whom he refers to as the “DMV boys,” a nod to the Washington metropolitan area they hail from — was simple. He trusted them and Michigan was desperately searching for a spark.

“Those two guys are very talented, skilled, know each other very well,” Howard said. “I knew versus the zone that with the two of them playing — one playing at the free-throw line and the other one playing on the low block — that we would have some type of continuity where they could work off of one another, which they did a very good job of.

“Give Terrance credit. He looked very poised as he was catching the ball at the free-throw line, making some really good plays and passes to Hunter, and Hunter did a great job of finishing.”

More:UM's Livers: Spat with Howard was coach 'holding me accountable'

Michigan trailed for much of the second half and by as much as six by the time Dickinson and Williams took the floor. When they checked in at the 11:23 mark, the Wolverines were down by four and they wasted no time getting to work.

On the first offensive play, Williams threaded an entry pass from the 3-point line into the post for an easy dunk for Dickinson. That kick-started a 12-5 run where the duo supplied all the offense and the two-man game resulted in multiple buckets as Michigan pounded it into the paint.

“I'm not going to lie, it was definitely scary being down,” said Williams, who finished with seven points, four rebounds and two assists but missed four free throws in the final 10 minutes of regulation.

“I think we just had chemistry doing this for a long time and Coach Howard said that in the locker room. You guys have been doing it since the (AAU) Team Takeover days and since elementary school. That's why he put us both in at the same time to get the good high-low in, make the right play, make the right pass.”

During the game-shifting stretch, Dickinson scored nine points, did a better job of keeping the ball high and away from Oakland’s active hands, and took over with his combination of size, touch and vision. He found Williams for a layup. He turned an offensive rebound into a three-point play. He snatched a pass from Smith, took one dribble, went up strong and scored at the rim to put Michigan back on top, 57-56, with 8:01 left in the second half.

More: State hoops: Why Oakland's Greg Kampe didn't foul late in regulation vs. UM

From there, Dickinson had a hand in Michigan’s final five baskets in regulation and emerged as the go-to option in key possessions down the stretch. After Oakland regained a two-point lead, Dickinson came up with a steal that resulted in a fast-break score and converted another post touch into a bucket.

When Oakland pulled even three more times in the final 5:26, Dickinson didn’t wilt under the pressure as Michigan kept feeding him. Rather, he delivered time and time again. He threw down two-handed slam off a drive and dish from senior guard Eli Brooks. He flung a pass cross-court pass from the right corner to the left wing to Livers, who used a head fake to get free for a dunk. And he found a cutting Livers for a layup while being double-teamed before a botched final possession sent the game to overtime.

“I think he's built for it,” said Williams, noting the two played in the competitive Washington Catholic Athletic Conference during high school. “We're used to big games like this, close games, even with Team Takeover in Peach Jam. We've been playing in close games since elementary, middle school, high school. I think we were built for the moment, coming in and not doing too much, playing our role.”

For Williams, that meant being a “junkyard dog” who crashed the glass and played with grit and heart. For Dickinson, that meant being more aggressive and looking to score first before picking apart Oakland’s zone with his patience and passing.

In overtime, Dickinson continued his down-low dominance. A feed on the left block led to a dribble, spin, bank and score. The Golden Grizzlies tried to slow him by fouling, but the strategy didn’t pay off. He made four straight free throws and single-handedly outscored Oakland, 6-4, in the extra session.

Dickinson finished with 19 points, all coming after halftime, four rebounds and four assists in 25 minutes. He shot 6-for-8 from the field and 7-for-9 on free throws.

“When I catch it at that elbow or at that 3-point line and you see a big 7-footer that weighs 250 cut to the basket, I have no choice but to throw it in to him,” said Livers, who poured in a game-high 22 points.

“He wanted that ball and we made an emphasis to get the ball inside to Hunter. And he's a good free-throw shooter, so that's plus. Foul him all you want. It's easy buckets.”

And in a pressure-filled situation where the Wolverines were flirting with near-disaster, a pair of Michigan’s least experienced players came to the rescue.

"You can tell out there that we've been playing together for a long time," Dickinson said. "When (Howard) first subbed us in, we knew that we had to provide a spark off the bench because our team needed it. We tried to go in there, play as hard as we can, give good minutes and it turned out really well for us."

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins