In a season defined thus far by adversity, Michigan basketball found itself with its back to the wall yet again on Sunday afternoon.
The Wolverines trailed the entire first half against Minnesota. And to make matters worse, with about two minutes before halftime, standout freshman Jett Howard went down with an ankle injury and had to be helped off the court.
But instead of getting rattled, the Wolverines rallied, led by captain Hunter Dickinson.
UM used a 15-3 spurt from the end of the first half to the beginning of the second to pull away from Minnesota before it held on for another tight win, 60-56, at Crisler Center.
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Dickinson led the team with 23 points and nine rebounds, just missing his fourth consecutive double-double. The junior is averaging 18.8 points and 7.4 rebounds in Big Ten play. Freshman Dug McDaniel had 10 points and eight rebounds while Kobe Bufkin added 10 points.
The Wolverines (11-8, 5-3 Big Ten) appeared to be sleep-walking out of the gates, an air of lethargy in the arena as they missed nine of their first 10 shots of the game. Minnesota’s struggling offense, which scored just 39 points last time out against Purdue, used that opportunity to mount an early lead.
The Golden Gophers were up 8-0 quickly after 3-pointers by Jamison Battle and Dawson Garcia sandwiched a Joshua Ola-Josepeh slam.
The Wolverines made just two shots in the first nearly eight minutes of the game, both of which came off of set in-bound plays from Dug McDaniel to Kobe Bufkin; the first a mid-range jumper, the second a wide-open layup.
A Tarris Reed slam dunk from Howard on a pick-and-roll with 12:02 left in the first half was Michigan’s first offensive set that led to a basket and made it 16-8. Minnesota would soon hold a 20-10 lead when UM tightened the screws on defense and ripped off a 13-3 close to the half.
The Golden Gophers (7-11, 1-7) missed 10 straight shots late in the half and made just 1 of their final 13 from the floor over the final 9:51 of the first half. Michigan held Minnesota to 40% shooting (23 of 57) from the floor and 26% (6 of 23) from long range.
Meanwhile that allowed UM to weather a slow start when Will Tschetter made a spinning layup, McDaniel hit a mid-range jumper and Dickinson made consecutive buckets − after starting the afternoon 0 of 5 from the floor − to cut the deficit to 20-18.
Howard goes down
It was a rather innocent play when Howard went up to contest a shot on the defensive end with 2:16 left to play in the first half, but rolled his left ankle as he landed and went down in a heap of pain.
The freshman wing, who had struggled through 15 minutes on 0 of 5 shooting, stayed down for a few minutes before he was helped off the court, without putting any weight on his foot, by the trainers. He sat on the bench for a few moments before he made his way to the tunnel and then to the locker room shortly after a Dickinson jumper tied the game at 23 heading into the half.
A Michigan team spokesperson said Howard was undergoing exams during the break and that he was ruled out for the second half.
But Dickinson was just getting going. He hit a right-handed bunny off the glass to give Michigan its first lead of the day, 27-26, before he hit a turnaround in the lane on the next trip down. After a McDaniel 3-pointer gave Michigan its three-point lead back, Dickinson got an offensive rebound and made the put-back plus the foul to extend the lead to 39-33 with 12:33 to play.
Michigan would never trail again, although Minnesota would continue to keep it within striking distance. After a Dickinson layup made it 43-35, the Golden Gophers scored five straight on a drive by battle and a long ball by Garcia to get back within three.
Ta’Lon Cooper led Minnesota with 15 points and 10 rebounds, followed by 14 form Battle and 13 from Garcia.
After Bufkin and Battle would exchange buckets, Michigan’s next six points came via three trips to the line from Dickinson who made all six attempts. Minnesota got it back to five with less than four minutes to play, but a Terrance Williams layup followed by a Bufkin floater extended Michigan’s lead to a game-high nine points.
Minnesota cut it to three late, but an intentional foul on Tschetter in the final 40 seconds gave Michigan a two-possession lead for good.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan basketball loses Jett Howard, beats Minnesota, 60-56