When Hunter Dickinson emerged from the tunnel inside the State Farm Center, he did so fashionably late, saddled in sweatpants and a long sleeve shirt.
For Dickinson, there would be no opportunity to relish in vengeful boos from the Illini faithful, no chance to contend blow-for-blow with All-American Kofi Cockburn. Dickinson made the trip to Champaign, but a recent bout with COVID-19 took a toll on his conditioning, to the point where Juwan Howard felt uncomfortable allowing him to play in Friday night’s contest.
And so Michigan went on without its star center, arriving on the other side of a COVID-19 outbreak to face a surging Illinois team perched atop the Big Ten and riding a 5-game winning streak. The Wolverines, ravaged by the virus, had not held a proper practice in nearly two weeks, unable to field enough healthy bodies for a simple 5-on-5 scrimmage.
It seemed like a perfect storm for a blowout loss. Yet here Michigan was, with 7:27 to play, vanquishing a once-boisterous crowd into a hush, Kobe Bufkin kissing home a runner over Cockburn, whittling the Illini lead down to one measly point.
It felt like a fever dream.