Iowa City, Iowa — It was a gaping hole for the Wolverines.
Make that a 7-foot-1, 260-pound void.
No. 5 Michigan faced a nightmare scenario of what it’s like to play without junior center Jon Teske for much of the game, and once was more than enough.
“It was bad,” sophomore forward Isaiah Livers said following Friday’s 74-59 loss to Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Teske played 1:25 in the first half and fouled out for the first time in 83 career contests. Despite being limited to a season-low 13 minutes, he finished with eight points, eight rebounds and a block as the Wolverines outscored the Hawkeyes by three points when he was on the court.
The harsh reality of life without Teske hit 1:19 into the game when he drew his first whistle while trying to swipe the ball from Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon.
Roughly seven minutes passed before Teske checked back in when Iowa was at the free-throw line. The Hawkeyes promptly grabbed an offensive rebound and Teske picked up his second foul just six seconds after his return when Iowa forward Tyler Cook tried to put him on a poster.
“I talked to some of the other guys about how big of a key Jon Teske is for their team and how much he gets overlooked,” Iowa forward Ryan Kriener said. “Once we were able to get him in foul trouble and he wasn't on the floor, it was a lot easier to get those mismatches that we like.
“When they throw Livers or (Austin) Davis in there, they're more guys that get up and defend in the passing lane, too. So, if you have everyone overplaying, you don't have Teske's presence at the front of the rim.”
For an Iowa team that leans on its frontcourt as well as its ability to draw fouls and get to the line through physical play, Teske’s absence was like blood in the water.
“With Iowa there's no secret,” Livers said. “They're pretty big and they know how to play out the post. That hurt us.”
Michigan coach talks about his team's performance in Friday's 74-59 road loss at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
That’s exactly what the Hawkeyes did. With Teske sitting the final 11:42 of the first half, Michigan coach John Beilein was left shuffling his options as the Hawkeyes relentlessly pounded it inside and attacked at every turn.
No matter who Beilein put in at center — he tried freshman forward Brandon Johns Jr. (10 minutes), freshman center Colin Castleton (three minutes), Livers (14 minutes) and Davis (five minutes) — no one came close to matching Teske’s effectiveness on either end. The foursome combined for five fouls, three points (1-for-7 shooting), three rebounds and two blocks.
With Michigan’s lack of a reliable backup five exposed, Iowa ripped off a 21-2 run to seize control and scored 10 of its 40 points in the paint during the flurry.
“We hoped it would be better,” Beilein said when asked how he envisioned navigating a first half without Teske due to foul trouble. “But this is a bad one to not have him because he does so many different things. His first foul was a careless foul where he's reaching, the shot clock is down.
“That does not help his team when he comes out because we don't have this plethora of bigs coming in behind him who have his experience. That was a big foul and changed the whole first half.”
Michigan managed to make a second-half push with Teske back in fold, using his presence around the rim to put together a 14-4 spurt that cut a 15-point deficit down to five. But two more fouls within a 25-second span sent Teske back to the bench, and he eventually fouled out with 3:15 left to play.
"It's a lot different,” Iowa forward Luka Garza said of Michigan when Teske isn’t on the floor. “He's a big key for them. He's an anchor down low. One of our game plans is always to try to get their big in foul trouble. We attacked them inside and tried to get him out of there.
“I think we did a good job once they kept rotating guys and we continued to take advantage of it.”
While Teske’s importance and value for Michigan has never been in doubt this season, Iowa’s strategy and Friday’s outcome amplified it.
And if others throughout the Big Ten hadn't taken notice, they certainly have now.
“Not having (Teske) obviously made a big difference,” junior guard Zavier Simpson said. “But we've got to find other ways because some games are going to be like this.”