Much like his team’s performance in a 72-70 overtime win vs. Northwestern in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, it was a game of extremes for junior guard Zak Irvin.
But in the end, it was his game-winning rise and shoot with three seconds remaining in overtime that will keep Michigan in conversation of a NCAA Tournament bid for at least another day.
“Coach ‘B’ put the ball in my hands,” Irvin said. “And (he told me) do what was possible or find our big man rolling. And you know, I just had enough space to let it go.”
Point guard Derrick Walton Jr. originally thought the play was drawn up for him.
“Honestly, I thought it was for me,” Walton Jr. said. “I saw a hand signal that I’m used to getting for myself, but either way I’m proud of whoever makes the shot. If their guy got within five feet of Zak, he was going to take care of the rest.”
Irvin finished with 19 points, eight rebounds, two steals, two assists and one turnover while playing a team-high 42 minutes. Six of the 19 points came in overtime.
The Fishers, Ind. native converted just two-of-five shots from the floor in the first half, but he squashed back-to-back Northwestern runs that threatened to steal away all momentum.
He ended the first 5-0 Wildcat run with a three-pointer to extend Michigan’s lead to 52-45 with 7:59 remaining.
Michigan wouldn’t score again until the 4:32 mark when Irvin converted a jumper to give the Wolverines the lead back, 54-52.
Irvin’s 19 points were the most he’s scored since he posted 22 in a 61-56 win vs. Purdue in mid-February.
Maybe a homecoming was all that was needed for the third-team All Big Ten team selection to escape a bit of a scoring drought.
“I was amped up before the game,” Irvin said. “It's always nice coming back to your hometown. Friends and family are able to see you play. I'm just proud of how hard we were able to fight and how resilient we were throughout the game. It was tough.”
Michigan doesn’t have long to celebrate its win over the Wildcats because a date with top-seeded Indiana is looming tomorrow at noon.
Michigan was largely outplayed and outworked by the Hoosiers 80-67 in Ann Arbor during their regular season contest in early February, but Irvin’s confident the rematch will have a different tone.
“We had a good win today, but we can't enjoy it for too long because we know we have IU tomorrow,” Irvin said. “We just have to go back and watch the film. Because obviously they beat us pretty bad the first game, but I know we're all going to be ready for this one.”