In some ways, Saturday afternoon belonged to Max Bielfeldt. In his final home game, Michigan’s lone senior earned his first career start and tallied his first career double-double, receiving numerous ovations in the process.
But the Senior Day festivities were overshadowed by a freshman, Aubrey Dawkins, who scored 31 points on 10-of-15 shooting with eight three-pointers — one shy of the program’s all-time record.
He capped the best performance of his young career with a thunderous alley-oop dunk, securing an eventual 79-69 win over Rutgers in the Wolverines’ regular-season finale.
“We have a chance against everybody,” John Beilein said about his team’s Big Ten tournament chances. “Obviously, if Aubrey is going to make eight threes every game, we have a much better chance.”
“Oh my gosh, that’s something else. Eight threes? That’s stupid. That’s ridiculous.”
As for Bielfeldt? He didn’t mind Dawkins getting some of the attention.
“He can steal my shine all he wants if he wants to do that the rest of the year and the rest of his career,” Bielfeldt said. “Oh my gosh, that’s something else. Eight threes? That’s stupid. That’s ridiculous.”
If you were worried Dawkins was a one-hit wonder after his breakout night against Illinois in December, the forward has given reasons to believe otherwise. In his last two games, he has scored 52 points, and he made 48% of his threes in Big Ten play.
Dawkins also finished Big Ten play with the best effective field goal percentage (63.3%) and true shooting percentage in the conference (65.8%) among qualified players.
Not bad for a freshman who figured to be a backup for much of the season and didn’t start until Jan. 20.
“There’s been tremendous growth in him,” Beilein said. “When he got here, he could shoot, but he had to get it off quicker. He’s worked hard at that. He has a short memory when it comes to when he misses. He gets back out there, loading the gun, shooting it again. He works really hard at this, really happy for him.”
Dawkins scored early and often against Rutgers, hitting his first four shots and adding a pair of free throws within the first eight minutes for 14 quick points.
He made three of the Wolverines’ first four buckets after halftime — two three-pointers and a layup created by a Spike Albrecht baseline drive — to put his team ahead by 23.
“There’s nobody in our practices that we can guard that can do that,” said Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan. “They were unselfish, they swung the ball, he had a hot hand. Game over.”
At that point, with 16 minutes left and six treys, tying Garde Thompson’s nine-triple mark set in 1987 became a very real possibility. Dawkins connected on back-to-back threes with 10 minutes left, but his attempt at the record fell short on a miss five minutes later.
“We have more games to come,” Dawkins said, explaining he’ll have more chances at the history books.
The next opportunity comes Thursday against the Illini in a must-win game for the Wolverines’ NIT chances. As Beilein explained, if Dawkins can keep up his hot streak, he likes their odds.