Zak Irvin: 'We had nothing to lose coming into this tournament'

Zak Irvin discusses team adversity after upsetting Purdue 74-70 in the Big Ten Tournament on Friday.

Video by Max Bultman

Zak Irvin, at times, has struggled mightily this season. Going stretches without hearing his name, it's safe to say he was going through a slump of all slumps.

However, things started to change when the Wolverines got things turned around.

On Friday, it all came full circle.

Irvin, along with Michigan forward D.J. Wilson, played a major role in the Wolverines' 74-70 upset victory over Purdue in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. Everyone knows U-M's story heading into Friday's game just as well as the struggles the team has been having throughout the season.

It's nothing the team nor the senior captain has seen before. Friday's game was just another form of adversity it had to get through.

"We had nothing to lose coming into this tournament and we're showing that," Irvin said.  "All of the adversity before we even got here and it just showed throughout the game when we faced some adversity. For us to persevere and overcome that is huge. I think the backstretch of the Big Ten, we finally changed our mentality on the defensive end," Irvin said. "It just changed our whole season. We're playing real connected right now. We just got to do that going forward."

At times, the Wolverines have had to rely on the senior leadership of Irvin and point guard Derrick Walton Jr. It was Walton who excelled against Illinois, now it was Irvin's turn. Something that needs to happen more often if the team plans on making a run in the NCAA Tournament.

With Walton and Irvin, there's no competition to see who can score the most points. The hot hand is going to get the ball.

"Derrick and I do a good job of reading that," Irvin said. "He saw that I was feeling it in overtime and he got me the ball, it's the same thing with him yesterday. He made those two big threes to be able to finish the game. Whoever has the hot hand and whoever wants to get the ball goes and gets it."

U-M head coach John Beilein knows what Irvin is capable of. Despite a slump that, rightfully so, could've warranted a benching, the head coach stuck by his captain and allowed him to find his way out of it. Despite the poor play, Beilein says that Irvin never showed any type of negative attitude. In fact, he offered high praise during his postgame press conference.

"Zak and I and Derrick, we have a special bond," Beilein said. "We've been together here four years. I think we started recruiting them when they were sophomores. I've just seen more than the common eye would see what he can do. But if he had any type of, again, agendas, if he had any type of bad attitudes, poor body language in games, it would be much different. It's never happened. He has handled this perceived slump that he's had by just becoming a better defender. He cares about his team. It's like, yeah, he's going to miss a few shots, but what he gives us in intangibles, the shot is not as important as what he does."

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