Michigan coach talks about his team's performance in Saturday's 61-52 win over Wisconsin that avenged its first loss of the season. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — To keep winning now, deep into the Big Ten race, churning toward the tournaments, you need all sizes and fits, all parts and pieces. Michigan has plenty, more than most, including a big piece that keeps growing.
He’s the unassuming giant, having an unexpected impact. Jon Teske stands out, not because he’s 7-foot-1, but because he’s a rare element for the Wolverines, an interior defensive force. In some ways, he’s the last key piece for this team, which has its standard array of slashers, shooters and perimeter defenders.
In a breakout junior season, Teske is filling a hole, and it doesn’t appear fluky or fleeting. He flashed it again, along with senior Charles Matthews, as Michigan bulled past Wisconsin 61-52 Saturday at Crisler Center. It’s well-documented how John Beilien’s program has risen and evolved, from laidback stylists to tenacious attackers. It’s an evolution we’re seeing in Teske — not every game, but when the matchup requires it.
The Wolverines (22-2, 11-2 in the Big Ten) have mostly rolled all season, but they needed another weapon, with their 3-point shooting down compared to the national finalists a year ago. And here came Wisconsin’s senior All-American, 6-10 Ethan Happ, with the Badgers on a six-game winning streak, threatening to jump to the top of the Big Ten.
To beat Wisconsin (17-7, 9-4), you have to stop Happ, and Michigan now has an app for that. Teske used to need a nap for that (sorry), nicknamed Big Sleep for his low-key, slow-moving demeanor. But while Matthews was making every clutch shot (16 of his 18 points came in the second half) and playing stifling defense, Teske’s task was more daunting.
Happ ran him over for 10 points in the first eight minutes, and then Teske got testy. He grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked three shots, and leads the Big Ten in blocks. He scored inside, tossed in a 3-pointer and finished with 17. And the underrated number to underscore his physical play: He drew seven fouls on the Badgers, by far the most on the team.
Happ sat for a chunk of the second half with three fouls and still finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds. But he also committed five turnovers, none bigger than Teske’s swipe of Happ’s pass with 3:36 left, as the Wolverines closed on a 10-2 run to pull away from a 51-50 sweat-fest.
Doubling his fun
The game mattered enough for the Wolverines to dig out the r-word, revenge. Wisconsin had snapped Michigan’s 17-game winning streak last month, and hadn’t lost since. Happ scored 26 in that game, although Teske held his own with 15. This contest was similar in almost every way, a classic Michigan-Wisconsin tug-of-war, except Teske had a bit more.
On Jan. 19 in Madison, Michigan led 27-25 at the half and kept it close before the Badgers pulled away 64-54. This time, it was 27-27 at the half and Wisconsin kept it close before the Wolverines pulled away 61-52.
The centerpieces each time were Happ and Teske. Michigan’s big man wouldn’t say it was personal, but it sure looked like it, as his emotions bubble more and more.
“I think I see him right now growing in his personality on the court, and he’s going to take things more personal,” Beilein said. “It hasn’t been like this. He went from a gentle guy in high school (in Ohio), then backing up Moe Wagner for two years, and he knew, ‘I don’t have to do a whole lot.’ Now, when we say (Happ) is yours and he’s yours for 32 minutes, you either gotta step up and get it done, or you’re not gonna feel very good.”
Teske averaged only 12 minutes and 3.4 points per game last season — although he came up big at tournament time — and those totals have more than doubled. He committed himself to a strict training regimen last summer with strength coach Jon Sanderson, and his conditioning has improved dramatically.
Wisconsin’s Greg Gard was the latest opposing coach to marvel at Teske’s development, from his footwork to his shot. Like many college players, it requires growth of the mind and body, and also an opportunity.
“I think he knows how important he is to the team,” Beilein said. “He was important before, but not like now. We’ve been stressing that to him. Maybe I overstressed it, how he couldn’t be an assistant coach in this game, sitting here in foul trouble, and that’s where Happ was just scoring layups over him.”
Centers of attention
That ended after Happ’s 10th point gave Wisconsin a 15-9 lead, and then Teske and others started attacking. Teske’s growth was evident from the first meeting to this one, and even from the first half Saturday to the second. He hit four of five free throws, including a pair after the Badgers’ Brad Davison was called for a “hook-and-hold” flagrant foul. Uh, before now, who would’ve bothered hooking and holding Teske?
The Badgers play the type of low-possession, low-turnover style that can bother the Wolverines, who don’t quite have their normal depth of outside shooters. Wisconsin had won six of the past nine meetings and Happ — averaging a double-double this season at 18.3 points and 10.4 rebounds — was a huge part of it.
“I don’t want to play him ever again,” Beilein said with a laugh. “I don’t want to play Wisconsin ever again, but they’re in the league. That’s an important step for (Teske) to go play against that guy, an All-American, and you look at the stat sheet and say, hey, two pretty good centers playing against each other.”
That’s something the soft-spoken Teske eventually might be willing to say. For now, he’d rather have people sleep on him.
“I just try to keep my motor running and play my game,” Teske said. “You gotta try to push (Happ) outside, but he’s going to get his touches and he’s going to dribble and dribble and dribble, and you just gotta wall him off. Total team effort defensively.”
For the Wolverines, it almost always is. The difference now is, when they need a wall, they can install a wall.