Ann Arbor — Michigan was desperate for some sort of a spark during its lethargic first half against Central Michigan.
Enter sophomore center Jon Teske.
After not playing many meaningful minutes last season as a freshman, Teske made an immediate impact late in the first half with his shot-altering presence that tilted the momentum in Michigan’s favor during its 72-65 win Monday night at Crisler Center.
“It was great. It was the best he’s ever played,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “He's had a couple days in practice where he was just out there. He's got to play with that type of intensity. We switch screens late and they were just going to take our big one-on-one because they were playing small half the game.
“I said, ‘Jon, while we're switching you got to guard him and we'll help you but you got to stay in front.’ He did a wonderful job.”
When Teske checked into the game with 4:51 left in the half and Michigan trailing 26-20, he wasted little time providing a critical boost on both ends of the floor.
He showed his improved footwork on defense by sliding and cutting off smaller players in the post. On consecutive Central Michigan possessions, he used his 7-foot-1 frame to swat away two shots in the paint and nearly recorded a third but was called for a foul.
Teske followed that up by drawing contact on a shot attempt outside the paint and sinking both free throws to pull Michigan within two points, 31-29, at the 1:22 mark.
By halftime, Teske, who finished 4-for-4 from the free-throw line with two blocks, a steal and a rebound in 10 minutes, was at the center of a 10-1 run that helped the Wolverines erase an eight-point deficit and take a 32-31 lead into the break.
“He's come a long way,” said sophomore guard Zavier Simpson, who had 13 points, three assists and two steals. “He just has to get more confident in himself, which has come and as you've seen out there. He was confident in his shot, shot two of them and got fouled on both.
“It's more in his head because he's a great player. He's really good. He can shoot it, he's big, he’s aggressive on defense. He's just got to get more confident. But when he's confident you see what he can do.”
Michigan fans held their collective breath when junior center Moritz Wagner fell awkwardly near the 3-point line during an offensive possession and limped back down the court with roughly nine minutes left in the second half.
Wagner was immediately replaced by Teske and had his right ankle/foot looked at on the sideline by the training staff.
However, the injury didn’t appear to be serious as Wagner checked back into the game roughly two minutes later and threw down an alley-oop from Simpson with 3:22 remaining.
Following the game, Beilein said Wagner, who finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds for his second straight double-double, was already receiving treatment.
“He twisted it a little bit. It looks like an ankle,” Beilein said. “But he was able to play, which is always a good sign. He’s got great medical care right now and it’s how he treats it as well. Let’s hope he's ready for Thursday (against Southern Miss).”
Central Michigan coach Keno Davis joked that he can’t seemingly get away from grad transfer Jaaron Simmons.
Simmons played the past two seasons in the Mid-American Conference at Ohio University and was likely to be the preseason player of the year in the league before he opted to transfer to Michigan.
When asked if he was relieved that Simmons was no longer in the MAC, Davis took a long pause and cracked a smile before answering.
“He's a pretty talented player. We've had some great games with Ohio,” Davis said. “I think you get frustrated a little bit when players they leave your conference and transfer, but you understand that's the climate that we live in and he's an exceptional talent.
“I knew when I heard that he was transferring and he was going to somebody on our schedule I had mixed feelings. I didn't want to see him again, but we saw him anyway."
Simmons finished with five points, two rebounds and an assist in 14 minutes in the win.
… Freshman guard Eli Brooks saw the court for only three minutes, but Beilein said the limited action had more to do with how the game was unfolding and wasn’t an indication of the ongoing battle to whittle the point guard spot down to a two-man rotation.
“In the second half when we got down, it wasn't the time for freshmen to be on the floor,” Beilein said. “When we got back away, it’s not the time for freshmen to be on the floor. I just made the decision to go (without) Eli."