When Jon Teske’s baseline post hook grazed the left side of the rim on the opening possession, it didn’t take long for him to clean up his own mess.
Instead of trotting back on defense, the senior center bulldozed into the paint to corral his own rebound. In one fell swoop, he landed on the other side of the basket and, as if on a pogo stick, sprung back up and finished the job with a layup off the glass.
Grinding through the teeth of the defense set the tone for Teske’s first-half double-double in the Michigan men’s basketball team’s 79-71 win over Appalachian State (0-1) on Tuesday night. He starred in the season-opener, dominating the paint on both ends of the floor and owning the glass. By the end of the night, he amassed 17 points and a career-high 13 rebounds.
After winning the tipoff, first-year head coach Juwan Howard called Teske’s number in the post. It worked, so he went back to his big man again on the next possession. Same result. By the first media timeout, Teske had accounted for the Wolverines’ (1-0) first 11 points. He sank his next four shots following the early missed hook, with two coming around the rim, another from mid-range territory and the fourth from beyond the arc.
“(Howard) drew up a lot of great plays, and fortunately I was able to finish around the rim,” Teske said after the game. “My teammates were able to find me. (I was) just using my height advantage well in the frontcourt … I was able to get a quick couple points in the first couple minutes.”
Added Howard: “(Teske) got into a really good groove. He was very aggressive out there offensively. He did a very good job on rebounds in the first half, too. He was battling in there. … We all know he can shoot the basketball, he proved that tonight.”
At 7-foot-1, Teske’s impact on the glass and scoring ability anchor the Wolverines’ frontcourt. For a team that lost half its offensive production from a year ago to early departures, the presence of a center of Teske’s caliber can ease the transition.
As a cornerstone of the starting lineup on a team adjusting to a new-look offense, Teske’s ability to score at all three levels provides a meaningful boost. He repeatedly created quality looks on the block against the Mountaineers, who have no players taller than 6-foot-9, but the going will get tougher against a conference littered with seven-footers.
Behind Teske’s big first half, in which he posted 15 points and 11 rebounds, the Wolverines stretched their lead to as much as 30. Even when the ball wasn’t in his hands, the defensive attention Teske drew made him a difference-maker.
“(Teske) was a big influence of that (lead),” said junior guard Eli Brooks. “ … His presence allowed me and other shooters to have open shots because they were so focused on him.”
One of Howard’s primary responsibilities as an assistant coach with the Miami Heat was developing big men. On Tuesday night, the immediate dividends were apparent.
Beyond Teske’s career night, sophomores Colin Castleton and Brandon Johns Jr. both saw time in the frontcourt. Together, they posted a combined 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting across 30 minutes. At times, they even shared the court with Teske — something that seldom occurred under former coach John Beilein.
But in his first game at the helm, Howard tinkered with the idea. Soon after deciding to give it a go, Teske fed a slashing Johns for an easy first-half dunk.
“It definitely is different,” Teske said. “I really enjoy playing big when Colin or Brandon is in there, I really like that. … It’s still early, so we’re still kind of playing around with lineups, too, seeing what works, what doesn’t, how we kind of mesh together.”
The growing pains were equally as noticeable on Tuesday night. Even as the Wolverines suffered through a 27-3 Appalachian State run, Teske’s ability to draw double-teams in the post created scoring opportunities for perimeter players off kickouts.
Against the Mountaineers, Teske embodied everything that worked. And for Michigan, his steady presence could make all the difference in this transition period.