Jon Teske stood at the free-throw line with Eli Brooks about five feet to his right. The two operated in tandem — Teske dropping back behind the 3-point line to where Brooks once stood, Brooks vacating his original position to seal off two defenders with a screen at the stripe.
Next came the pass from junior guard Zavier Simpson. Then came the shot by Teske. Then came the sound of ball catching nylon.
Then it happened again.
Two minutes later, Brooks drove the lane, drawing Teske’s defender to help on him. Teske stepped back across the arc and fired away. The ball rattled home. The next possession saw the exact same play and the exact same result.
Here was Brooks, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound guard, setting an off-ball screen to spring his 7-foot-1 center for a 3-pointer. Here was the center setting up and knocking it down delay-free. Here was Teske, who had hit just five treys in his career before Sunday, hitting three in the first half alone.
Michigan’s 80-60 win Sunday over Northwestern did not actually take place in a parallel universe, though it may have seemed that way for those 150 seconds. Nor did Teske somehow switch bodies with a certain tall, sweet-shooting Los Angeles Lakers rookie, even if that may have appeared to be the case too.
No, this was Jon Teske, all 85 inches and 260 pounds of him, doing exactly what many have long hoped he’d do.
Teske shot 3-pointers at Medina High School in Ohio. But in Ann Arbor, the anticipation started last spring, when Moritz Wagner and his 110 career threes departed for the NBA Draft. Of all the off-season storylines surrounding the Wolverines, Teske’s improved outside stroke was one of the most prominent. It was the intrigue of something unseen and the allure of yet another behemoth gunning teams down from deep. If Teske’s shooting was as accurate as hyped, Michigan’s pick-and-pop game — so deadly with Wagner as an outlet — wouldn’t miss a beat.
“Jon Teske has shot the ball really well (in practice),” said Michigan coach John Beilein on Sept. 25. “Having a big man that can shoot, you all see what can happen, it made everybody else better last year. Having Jon be able to do that … (that’s) big to get those big men that can shoot.”
Added Teske: “Now that Moe’s gone, it’s my turn to step up. And I think with my capability shooting the three, I can really stretch the floor and help us win games.”
Teske has indeed helped the Wolverines win games in many ways, but until Sunday, shooting wasn’t among them.
In his two-plus years on campus, Teske’s grown from a whistle-prone freshman into a mature rim protector who keeps his arms up and defends without fouling. In his first season, he committed 6.7 fouls per 40 minutes. This year, he’s sliced that rate in half.
Teske once ran out of energy quickly, but he now has both the defensive acumen and the stamina to average 27 minutes a night, including a career-high 35 minutes on Sunday. His ability to switch onto guards on the perimeter has allowed him to anchor Michigan’s defense both inside and outside.
“Jon Teske’s come a long way,” said Purdue coach Matt Painter after his team lost, 76-57, to the Wolverines on Dec. 1. “He’s bypassed a lot of people, in my opinion, that he competes against. … I don’t know him personally, but there’s no way he hasn’t worked hard, because he was a long way away two years ago.”
“The development he’s made this year has really added to (Michigan’s) weaponry, so to speak,” said Northwestern coach Chris Collins after his team’s 62-60 loss to Michigan on Dec. 4. “They don’t have many holes.”
Teske has only shown flashes of the awaited range. But as with Simpson, a maligned shooter who went 5-for-10 from deep against the Wildcats, what’s been more telling is the Wolverines’, and Teske’s, unwillingness to go away from the three-ball. Teske had attempted 22 threes before Sunday, including seven over Michigan’s last three games.
“I think (Teske’s confidence) never wavered,” said redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews. “(He) just understood that shots were going to fall at some point, kept taking those shots, kept believing in it.”
On Sunday, Teske came out firing. Though most of his prior 3-point attempts were basic pick-and-pop looks, against the Wildcats, he showed a greater willingness to move without the ball and hunt his own shots. He faded out of the post to pop in a 16-footer from the right wing on the Wolverines’ fourth possession, and hit a long two from the left wing one trip later, part of a 10-0 start.
Later in the half, the 3-point barrage came in full force.
“I know I’m capable of knocking down those shots,” Teske said. “Just finding the right shots within the offense. … If the shot’s there, I’m going to take it. I’m not going to force anything.”
It’s too early to tell if Sunday’s 17-point, 3-of-5 shooting performance was just another flash.
But if it isn’t? That’s a scary proposition for the Big Ten, as Michigan’s seven-footer continues to grow.