Uncasville, Conn. — Michigan coach John Beilein knows all too well the difference a shooting big can make and the problem it presents to opposing teams.
So, when junior center Jon Teske lined up and knocked down a 3-pointer atop the key — the first of his Michigan career — you could excuse Beilein if a smile crept across his face.
“The fact that he can shoot the ball, he's got to shoot the ball,” Beilein said after Michigan suffocated Providence, 66-47, Sunday in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament title game at Mohegan Sun Arena.
“I believe that is his first 3 ever, and what I hope is it's the first 3 of many. The kid is just a great option as you found out last year with Moe (Wagner). He can do that.”
Wagner was among the team’s top 3-point shooting threats last season and gave Michigan a decisive advantage in most matchups. Opposing teams — like Purdue and coach Matt Painter — would even center their entire defensive strategy around stopping Wagner.
While Teske’s offensive skill set isn’t going to be confused with Wagner’s anytime soon, he has shown in practice he can make the opposition pay when he’s left unattended beyond the arc.
And on Sunday, he proved he can make it when it matters after entering the contest 0-for-5 from beyond the arc in his career and 0-for-3 this season.
“We're used to seeing Jon do that. Jon can knock it down, we trust him to knock it down,” junior guard Zavier Simpson said. “He just knows how to play and it's always good to play with a big man that knows the game, knows what he brings offensively and defensively. We're just excited to be able to have a big man who can help us in many different ways.”
What also can’t be dismissed is the timing of Teske’s 3-pointer. It wasn’t during garbage time or when Michigan was comfortably ahead. It came when Providence was making a charge late in the first half and whittled Michigan’s lead down to one.
But not only did Teske’s deep ball end Providence’s brief spurt, it started a momentum-shifting 14-2 run that gave Michigan a 13-point lead at the break.
“At the end of the day, he works hard on his skill,” Simpson said. “He sat for pretty much two years and now he has an opportunity to present himself and show what he’s capable of. For him to knock that 3 down, it’s always good to see that.”
It was just one highlight of Teske’s big day, where he finished with a career-high 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting, including 1-for-3 from deep. It surpassed his previous high of 15 points he scored against Detroit Mercy last season and came after back-to-back scoreless outings against Villanova and George Washington.
“He's the most unselfish big man I've ever played with,” freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis said. “He doesn't care about scoring. He wants to win the game and that's about it, so that really helps us.”
For the first time this season, the Wolverines ran into their first bout of foul trouble.
All five starters — redshirt junior Charles Matthews, sophomore guard Jordan Poole, Simpson, Brazdeikis and Teske — finished with three fouls apiece during the wrestling match against Providence. Poole and Matthews both sat for long stretches at a time.
“Pretty much we had to adapt to the refs. The refs don’t adjust to us, we adjust to them,” Simpson said. “When guys are in foul trouble like that the next man has to step up, which we trust, and be able to come in and fulfill his role and keep us heading in the right direction.”
Sophomore forward Isaiah Livers and sophomore guard Eli Brooks did just that. Livers played a season-high 28 minutes and knocked down consecutive 3-pointers that helped Michigan overcome a rocky start to the second half, while Brooks buried a 3-pointer during the game-changing flurry at the end of the first half.
“We're working with David (DeJulius) and Brandon (Johns Jr.) and our other freshmen every day, but you really could go to seven guys and we just rotated them in. Those are really good teams when you have that,” Beilein said. “I said we have a young developing team but there's a step up to these seven or eight that allows us to really focus on those guys and be good this time of the year while we grow the other ones.
“I like our rotation right now. I'd like to expand it a little bit more, but we got in foul trouble and we got through it. It was very important. It was good."
Matthews and Simpson were the only Wolverines named to the Hall of Fame Tip-Off All-Tournament team. Matthews racked up 30 points (12-for-20 shooting), 10 rebounds and three assists during the weekend, while Simpson had 20 points (7-for-14 shooting), 17 rebounds and 16 assists.
… Redshirt sophomore center Austin Davis sat out his second straight game with an ankle sprain he suffered after a hard fall in Wednesday’s win at Villanova.