'It was special': Michigan rolls as Crisler Center bids farewell to Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — The night belonged to seniors Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske.

The program’s all-time winningest players took the Crisler Center court for the final time in their careers and left in fitting fashion: with another blowout victory.

The two Wolverines picked up their 108th career win as No. 25 Michigan pulled away in the second half to take down Nebraska, 82-58, on Thursday.

University of Michigan players Zavier Simpson, left, and Jon Teske take part in a ceremony for the seniors before the game.

“It was special, especially the start before the game walking out with my parents,” Teske said. “I'm just happy we won. It’s a very special moment and I'm just happy that I've been a part of this university the past four years. It's just something special I'll always have.”

After Michigan’s offense was stuck in neutral much of the first half, the Wolverines hit the throttle in the second half and blew the game open. The Wolverines ratcheted up the defense, strung together stops and rattled off a 21-6 run over the first six minutes of the half.

BOX SCORE: Michigan 82, Nebraska 58

The took their first double-digit lead, 42-30, when Teske converted a three-point play. The margin continued to swell as junior forward Isaiah Livers finished the flurry with a 3-pointer and three-point play to make it 53-34 with 13:57 to play.

That was more than enough cushion against a struggling Nebraska team that was winless on the road and hadn’t won a game since the first week of January. The Cornhuskers never cut the deficit below 13 and trailed by as much as 27 down the stretch.

Teske finished with 12 points and five rebounds and Simpson recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 assists. They both exited in the closing minutes to a standing ovation.

More: Teske's and Simpson's final Michigan home game draws VIP spectator: John Beilein

"It hasn't hit me, I'm not going to lie,” Simpson said of playing his final home game. “But then again, I'll reflect by myself and just look at all the memories and all the things that I can embrace. Times like this go by fast.

“It feels like yesterday I was standing here my freshman year off a big game. Now this is my last game standing here at Crisler. I just want to embrace every single moment of it and embrace the rest of the season because it goes by quick."

Livers added 18 points and 10 rebounds, freshman wing Franz Wagner scored 11 and sophomore forward Brandon Johns Jr. scored 10 for Michigan (19-11, 10-9 Big Ten). The Wolverines shot 59.4% (19-for-32) in the second half to end a two-game slide and sweep the regular-season series against Nebraska.

Teske and Simpson wasted little time making an impact in their final home game. Teske opened the scoring with a hook and knocked down another jumper in the lane while Simpson dished out a pair of assists and had a driving layup as the Wolverines jumped out to a 16-7 lead with 13:58 left in the first half.

Things got dicey when Michigan’s offense sputtered and was out of sorts the rest of the half. During an eight-minute stretch, the Wolverines missed 14 of 16 shots and went scoreless for over four minutes. Nebraska took advantage of the dry spell with a 10-2 spurt and pulled within 23-22 with 6:52 left in the half.

Junior guard Eli Brooks momentarily broke the funk with back-to-back 3-pointers. Despite missing 20 of its final 25 shots of the half, Michigan still managed to take a 32-28 lead into the break as Nebraska had more turnovers (12) than made field goals (10).

Zavier Simpson puts up a shot in his final Michigan home game.

"Coach Howard did a good job of preparing us. He told us it was going to be emotional, but at the same time there was still a game ahead,” Teske said. “We knew at the start there was going to be maybe a little jitters just walking out there and getting those emotions out of you.

“We came out strong and there was that five-minute stretch where they came back. But we knew in the second half we just had to pull away, we had to use our depth on them and everyone had to step up.”

Haanif Cheatham scored 19 and Dachon Burke 16 for Nebraska (7-23, 2-17), which has lost 15 in a row and fell to 0-11 on the road. The Cornhuskers shot 36.2% (21-for-58) from the field and committed 22 turnovers that led to 24 Michigan points. 

It also didn't help they were without guard Cam Mack, who was suspended for the contest and had 19 points in the first meeting.

“We got off to a tough start and we knew they'd go on a run,” Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It was an emotional night with Senior Night with two unbelievable seniors that have done a lot for this program. I thought we did a great job withstanding that first run and continuing to go out and battle.

“That second half, the beginning with four straight turnovers, when we make simple plays I thought we had solid possessions. But when we didn't and tried to sneak into small spaces and make home run-type plays, that's where we got in trouble."

The celebration of Teske and Simpson brought back a couple of familiar faces. Former Wolverine Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman was on hand to watch Simpson play in his 145th career game and break his previous mark of 144.

Former coach John Beilein, who recruited and coached Teske and Simpson for three seasons, was also in attendance. It was his first time returning to Crisler Center since he left to take an NBA head job with the Cleveland Cavaliers, which ended abruptly as he resigned after just 54 games. Beilein received a standing ovation when he was recognized during a first-half timeout.

Simpson and Teske were honored in a pregame ceremony that featured a video montage of their highlights and their teammates talking about their time together in Ann Arbor. The duo was part of one of the most successful stretches in program history with back-to-back Big Ten tournament titles, back-to-back 30-win seasons, three straight Sweet 16s and a national title game appearance.

With Thursday’s win, Teske and Simpson improved to 108-38 for their career and finished with a 58-10 mark at Crisler Center.

“We have two high-class, high-character guys,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “I'm not surprised by how their college experience has been. It's been a fun ride, but they know that it's not over. We still have a lot more season to play.”


Twitter: @jamesbhawkins