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Michigan Basketball starts strong, struggles to close in win over Buffalo

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The Bulls hung around for too long.

NCAA Basketball: Buffalo at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

It was no cakewalk for the Michigan Wolverines in their opening game of the season against the Buffalo Bulls. The game was fast-paced, intense, and a bit chippy as three double technical fouls were called throughout the course of the ballgame. But they got the job done and picked up their first win of the season by a score of 88-76.

A new team, but similar issues plagued the Wolverines throughout the game. They were scorching hot in the first half but had a huge offensive letdown in the second that nearly cost them the game. The team also went ice cold from deep and struggled from the free-throw line, shooting just 18-30.

The five-star Michigan freshmen were the story of the first half for the Wolverines. Moussa Diabate was the first man off the bench and needed little time to adjust to the college level. Immediately, he found fellow true freshman Caleb Houstan for the first three-pointer of the season. A couple minutes later, he took a pass from Houstan in transition and slammed it home. Michigan went on a 9-0 run and took an early 21-9 lead. Later, Houston came up the court from the baseline and took a handoff from Diabate, who then rolled to the basket and Houstan hit him in the paint for an easy flush. Chemistry was apparent for the two true freshmen early in this one.

Houstan went to the bench with two fouls, but Diabate continued to show out. He picked up his third assist of the game, finding Adrien Nunez for a three. On the other end, he sent two shots back in three Buffalo possessions. Diabate was all over the place with 7 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds, and 2 blocks in the first frame.

Then, to wrap up the half, Dickinson began to impose his will. Three straight possessions ended with a bucket for the big fella, doing so in different ways. He spun baseline and dunked over a smaller defender for an and-one. Then, a baby hook with the left hand and a floater that fell put Michigan up 46-25 with under four minutes to go.

Juwan Howard and company went into the half up 51-34 outrebounding the Bulls 20-15 and shooting 58% from the floor.

Even with the strong play from Michigan, the Bulls continued to hang around with a run to open up the second. Ronaldo Segu was left wide open for a three-ball in a poor defensive set for the Wolverines which cut the lead to 12. The second-half philosophy completely flipped for the Bulls, who began to look for more inside looks after struggling from deep to this point. Some trailing cuts from big men off drives from their guards led to some mammoth dunks that boosted momentum for the visitors.

Meanwhile, the Michigan offense was all out of sorts. Ball movement was apparent for the Wolverines in the first half, but it disappeared and they got sloppy with possession after a few unforced turnovers. Four minutes went by without a Michigan bucket and the lead was trimmed down to seven with about 15 minutes remaining. Much of the duty for offense came from the veterans on this team in the second half while the Houstan-Diabate combo combined for just three points.

The Bulls wouldn’t go away as they were playing with a lot of confidence. A three-ball and Jeenathan Williams scoring at will on the inside had the Michigan lead down to five points. The senior forward had 32 points on an incredibly efficient 12-19 shooting.

Terrance Williams’ 15 points off the bench were huge in this game. He hit a late three-pointer with a hand in his face to flip the momentum in the game. It sparked a 16-9 run to close out the 88-76 win for Michigan.

But the player of the game for the Wolverines was easily Hunter Dickinson. After a superior freshman campaign, Dickinson opened up his sophomore season with 27 points on 11-17 shooting and 6 rebounds to add to it. He dominated on the offensive end throwing down countless dunks and using his imposing size to crush smaller players on the interior. The big man was the Wolverines’ only offense at points in the second half and he kept Michigan’s head above water as the Bulls made several attempts to take a late lead.

After a tough one tonight against Buffalo, the Wolverines get what should be a much easier opponent on Saturday against Prairie View A&M in the Coaches vs Racism game. The Panthers are 0-1 on the season after losing to Saint Mary’s on Tuesday. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. ET on the Big Ten Network.