When the Michigan men’s basketball team was in trouble against UCF on Sunday, Juwan Howard was forced to turn to his bench.
Down double digits less than 10 minutes into the game, most opponents would expect the Wolverines to rely on senior forward Isaiah Livers or sophomore wing Franz Wagner to mount a comeback. But both found themselves on the bench not long after tip off, as the former started 0-of-3 from deep while the latter committed a pair of fouls in the game’s first five minutes.
So when Michigan needed an early comeback, it was the Wolverines’ bench that led the way. Michigan closed the first half on a 22-6 scoring run, turning a 12-point deficit into a four-point halftime lead. The Wolverines overcame a slow start to beat the Knights, 80-58, thanks in large part to a well-rounded bench effort.
In the first half alone, Michigan’s bench outscored its reserves, 25-13. Livers was held scoreless, while Wagner and guard Mike Smith combined for just four points. The trio of freshman center Hunter Dickinson, freshman forward Terrance Williams and senior guard Chaundee Brown, on the other hand, accounted for 23 total points on 10-of-14 shooting.
“We have confidence in the second unit,” Dickinson said. “We’re five guys who are very confident in ourselves. We know that when we go out there we can make an impact on the floor. We know we need the leadership from the first unit to help us out, but we’re also capable of making our own sparks coming in off the bench.”
Brown, in particular, came through when the Wolverines needed him most. He’s still making his own personal adjustment to the sixth man role after starting 74 of his 84 career games at Wake Forest, but when Livers and Wagner couldn’t give Michigan much production on the wings against UCF, Brown delivered a team-best 18 points. Twelve of them came from beyond the arc, where he canned four of his six attempts.
By the end of the night, the Wolverines’ bench had stolen the show. Only one starter finished in double figures, while Brown (18), Dickinson (14) and Williams (10) all reached that benchmark after coming off the bench — a testament to Michigan’s strong depth.
“Just know that we’re here for a reason, the bench guys,” Brown said. “Coach Howard, all the coaches recruited us for a reason. He saw it in AAU, in college basketball, he saw that we had game. Just coming off the bench, that’s a different role. Coach Howard always talks about sacrificing. We’re sacrificing a lot of things that on other teams, we would’ve been star players or starting but we’re taking a second role on a winning team. We’re just always ready.”
Added Howard: “We have a very deep team. Our thing is, all hands on deck. And game by game, it’s always being evaluated on what’s giving us the best chance. But we’re going to need everyone this season, it’s that simple.”
For a Michigan team replacing two multi-year starters from a season ago, depth is crucial. There are going to be games when Livers and Wagner go cold or end up in foul trouble, and if the Wolverines are going to contend in the Big Ten — arguably the nation’s most competitive conference — they will need to call upon Brown, Dickinson, Williams and the rest of the bench for regular contributions.
Sunday was the first indicator of how the bench will respond when those moments come. And in the Wolverines’ win over UCF, they didn’t bat an eye.