On Senior Night, Jon Teske's emotions underscore his importance

Thursday, March 5, 2020 - 9:22pm

Jon Teske scored 12 points with five rebounds against Nebraska.

Jon Teske scored 12 points with five rebounds against Nebraska. Buy this photo
Michael Bagazinski/Daily

Zavier Simpson thought he would get emotional first. He was wrong.

As Jon Teske took the microphone to address the crowd following Michigan’s 82-58 shellacking of Nebraska, his voice wavered. He talked about his family, and what four years at Michigan meant to him. That was when his voice broke, and tears started coming.

Teske’s personality is often defined by his understatedness. He says little and leads by example, letting Simpson do the talking. His nickname, “Big Sleep,” implies the opposite of what happened Thursday night.

“I actually didn’t know Jon was going to get emotional,” Simpson said.

“It was very emotional to see our players be vulnerable and share their college experience to the crowd,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said.

As for Teske himself?

“I had a feeling I might (cry),” he said.

And talking to the crowd, the meaning of the moment swallowed him up.

“I think just that being my last game and when I started talking about my parents, just everything they’ve done for me, I wouldn’t be here without them,” Teske said. “And so I give them so much credit. And I think at the end of the game, too, just all those emotions. Just kinda walking off (at Crisler Center) for the last time.”

Teske’s senior year has come with some struggles. What figured to be a swan song of finishing pick-and-rolls and backstopping a defense that was top-five in the country for the last two seasons has instead with the emergence of Austin Davis and some less than stellar play from Teske. 

In his last 16 games before Thursday, Teske shot just 39.3 percent from the field and 24.3 percent from 3-point range, failing to come up with the output most had come to expect from him. Michigan opens every game by posting up Teske, a gambit that had started to become a prelude to inevitable gripes on Twitter.

On Thursday, that hook shot went in, and Teske finished with an understated 12 points and five rebounds. The Wolverines dispatched Nebraska, gaining some momentum after two straight losses, and got a reminder that if they want to make a run this month, Teske has a role to play.

“I just had to keep chugging away, plugging away,” Teske said. “The highs and lows of the season — a lot of the hook shots were kinda going in and out. I wasn’t getting some good looks. But I had to trust myself. 

“My teammates trusted me. My confidence was so high, coach (Juwan Howard) stayed confident in me (to) just go in there and play my game.”

Starting with next week’s Big Ten Tournament, it will become clear just how important Teske is to Michigan. Davis, despite his breakout season, still struggles on defense and with avoiding fouls. Teske has three years of postseason minutes banked — experience the Wolverines will fall back on when it matters most.

Though a 12-point, five-rebound performance against the conference’s second-worst defense by adjusted efficiency doesn’t quite constitute a turnaround, it points in the right direction. With March here already, that’s all Michigan can ask for.

Teske and Simpson both spoke Thursday of the importance the coming weeks hold. All the emotions underscored the point. For Michigan’s two seniors, this is all ending as soon as they let it.

“(Simpson) and I, we’ve come so far since our freshman year,” Teske said. “It was well-deserved. We still have some business to finish.”