Jon Teske was cooking and the Michigan faithful inside Crisler Center couldn’t get enough.
With nine points in the opening 2:40, the senior center pulled up from the wing for a heat-check 3-pointer. Though it clanked off the front rim, Teske, and the rest of the Michigan men’s basketball team (1-0), oozed with confidence.
“Coach (Juwan Howard) drew up a lot of good plays and fortunately enough, I was able to finish around the rim,” Teske said. “My teammates were finding me and I was just using my height advantage — they were kinda small in the frontcourt.”
Following in the senior’s lead, junior guard Eli Brooks knocked down two shots from behind the arc while sophomore wing Adrien Nunez converted on a stepback jumper from the elbow. By the first media timeout, the Wolverines had quickly tallied 16 points against a stunned Appalachian State and blown the roof off the building.
The utter delirium that characterized the first 20 minutes of Howard’s inaugural game eventually gave way to frustration and concern in the second half, as a slew of turnovers and missed shots almost cost the Wolverines the game.
Ultimately, Michigan overcame its near collapse, winning, 79-71, against the Mountaineers (0-1) in a hard-fought, yet thoroughly unconvincing opener.
Keeping the pace high — something Howard has emphasized so far in practice — and the defensive intensity up, the Wolverines opened up a substantial lead early on.
“The pace was important,” Brooks said. “We were getting up and down the floor. Not letting them get set up.”
Accompanying Teske’s 15 first-half points was a frenetic defensive performance. Michigan’s hands were seemingly in every passing lane, slapping the ball away and stealing possessions.
During one sequence, sophomore forward Colin Castleton nicked it away from Appalachian State guard Donovan Gregory, leading to a wide-open three for junior forward Isaiah Livers on the other end.
In total, the Wolverines forced 12 first-half turnovers on the Mountaineers, to go with multiple low-percentage desperation shots.
Coming out of the break, Michigan expanded its 21-point advantage with two corner threes from Brooks — who finished with a team-high 24 points — and an easy baseline alley-oop from sophomore guard David DeJulius to Livers.
And then, the game turned.
Thanks to uncharacteristic turnovers from Livers and senior guard Zavier Simpson, poor shooting and defensive miscues, Appalachian State mounted a comeback.
“We were trying to make a quick shot,” Teske said. “We just have to share the ball, move the ball and use the shot clock more. We had a lot of silly turnovers in the second half trying to force passes that aren’t there. If it’s not there, we just need to pull the ball out and run more offense”
The Mountaineers went on a 27-3 tear over an eight-minute stretch and cut the deficit to just four points with 20 seconds remaining.
Facing a full-blown debacle, Michigan made enough plays down the stretch to stave off the comeback. Simpson and Brooks were steady enough at the helm, while Livers converted a second-chance layup under the basket with 1:31 remaining to increase the lead to eight and give the Wolverines some breathing room.
In the end, it was far from straightforward. Still, a win is a win.
The Wolverines held on to give Howard his first victory on the sidelines at Michigan — and a lot of practice material.
“It’s our first game,” Teske said. “It’s a long season. We’re going to learn from this. We’re going to grow from this. We still got a lot of improvement to do and that’s what practice is for. We’ll come back this week and we’ll get better.”