Michigan basketball crushes Nebraska by 35 points in Big Ten opener, 102-67 – Detroit Free Press

Michigan basketball crushes Nebraska by 35 points in Big Ten opener, 102-67 – Detroit Free Press
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LINCOLN, Neb. — Legions of red-and-white-clad fans inside Pinnacle Bank Arena filed for the exits when Michigan basketball stretched its lead to 22 points with nearly 12 minutes remaining, streaming from their seats following an uncontested layup by Caleb Houstan on a fast break. The latest example of defensive ineptitude from Nebraska had prompted coach Fred Hoiberg to wander halfway across the court just to signal a merciful timeout.

Whatever percentage of Cornhuskers fans remained in the building was halved again barely four minutes later as center Hunter Dickinson, a thorn in their side all evening, corralled his own miss for a second-chance layup that widened the margin to 30. The ensuing media timeout ushered droves more spectators toward their cars.

So thorough was Michigan’s stomping that coach Juwan Howard inserted a walk-on with nearly six minutes remaining. On the heels of a terrific offensive performance against miserly San Diego State on Saturday — righting the ship following an embarrassing loss to North Carolina three nights earlier — the Wolverines wiped away the Cornhuskers in the first half and rolling to a 102-67 win.

“I was extremely happy to see the way the ball was moving,” Howard said. “It was popping. It was great to see our guys sharing the game. There were times when we passed up an open shot for a better shot when a guy was open either in the corner or in the slot. We did a really good job of driving the basketball and not just settling for jumpers.”

Michigan Wolverines forward Caleb Houstan (22) scores on Nebraska Cornhuskers forward Lat Mayen (11) in the first half at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Dec. 7, 2021.

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Their crisp execution produced five players in double figures in scoring, highlighted by 20 points and five rebounds from Brandon Johns Jr., who was inserted into the starting lineup when Moussa Diabate remained in Ann Arbor due to a non-COVID illness. Terrance Williams II chipped in 22points off the bench, while starters Dickinson, Houstan and Eli Brooks combined for 41 points and 21 rebounds. The Wolverines shot 51.3% from the floor and 46.9% from 3-point range to dominate the game’s final 30 minutes.

Michigan broke the game open roughly eight minutes in with a 20-5 run featuring near-flawless offense as Howard received meaningful contributions from his bench. The run began with a feed to Dickinson on the left block, where he was guarded by freshman big man Wilhelm Breidenbach. Dickinson flipped a soft hook up and over the defender and then held his right hand at knee level while jogging down the court to indicate Nebraska lacked the size to defend him in deeper positions.

An offense that found it difficult to funnel the ball to Dickinson in losses to Arizona and North Carolina suddenly made him a focal point. He scored again on a hook shot from the right block two possessions later and then kicked the ball diagonally across the court for a 3-pointer by Williams that pushed the lead to double digits for the first time at 26-15. It was the second time the Cornhuskers had doubled Dickinson on the left block — his earlier cross-court pass helped facilitate a layup for Houstan — and the second time he’d made them pay.

“He’s a willing passer, always been since he was in high school, and he also is a smart passer,” Howard said. “The big fella has a high IQ and that’s something that is never said enough. He makes plays. He sees plays before it happens.”

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The 3-pointer from Williams ignited a flurry of points from reserves that helped the Wolverines carry a 13-4 edge in bench points into the break. Backup guard Zeb Jackson, who made his season debut against the Tar Heels after a prolonged illness, dropped a nifty dish to Williams for a layup and splashed a 3-pointer on the next possession that forced Hoiberg to call a timeout just 36 seconds after the last stoppage in play as the U-M lead ballooned to 16.

Michigan Wolverines center Hunter Dickinson (1) signals after scoring against the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the first half at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Dec. 7, 2021.

A gulf in 3-point shooting captured arguably the biggest disparity between the two sides. The Wolverines entered Tuesday’s game ranked 188th in 3-point percentage (32.9%). The Cornhuskers, however, were on another level of futility: ranked 329th out of 358 Division I teams, with a 27.1% clip from beyond the arc.

Jackson’s 3 gave way to additional deep shots by DeVante’ Jones, Houstan and Johns in a span of three minutes to push Michigan’s lead over 20 as the Nebraska faithful sulked. The Wolverines shot 9-for-22 from beyond the arc in the first half while the Cornhuskers connected just three times from long range. U-M took a 51-32 lead into the break due in part to ruthless execution, reflected by 1.38 points per possession.

“It was a good all-around balance for us offensively, by the way we shared the basketball with 25 assists and kept our turnovers lower than what it’s been in the past for us,” Howard said. “We still turned it over 12 times, which we will try our best to improve in that area, but I just like how our guys were dialed into the game plan.”

From there, the lead continued to swell — from 20 to 25, from 25 to 30, and from 30 to 35 in the final minute of the second half on a night Michigan never trailed. The Wolverines cruised to victory in their first Big Ten game of the season. 

Contact Michael Cohen at mcohen@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Cohen13