The Zak Irvin of old revealed himself in a big way last night for the U-M basketball team.
The senior, who had been in a monumental slump the team’s last four games, broke out with 18 points to lead Michigan to a huge 64-58 win over No. 11 Wisconsin at the Crisler Center.
Irvin shot 6 of 12 from the field and added five rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Irvin’s slump appeared to be due to a lack of confidence, but the Indiana native showed no signs of that Thursday night as he was energetic after every big play and was always pumping up the crowd and his teammates.
While Irvin’s shooting was big for the Wolverines, his defense was what ultimately turned the momentum in the second half. With Wisconsin leading by eight points minutes after the break, John Beilein decided to double-team U-W center Ethan Happ — who already had 22 points.
After that, Irvin played closer to the post and constantly disrupted Happ, who was having his way with the Wolverine big men. Happ never scored another point and Michigan was quickly up seven points and never looked back.
Irvin’s biggest defensive play came when he was one-on-one with Happ in the post and forced him into a turnover which led to a ferocious Wagner dunk the other way to push the lead to eight with 3:32 left.
Michigan forced 11 Wisconsin turnovers held the Badgers to just 3 of 16 from behind the 3-point line.
U-M improves to 17-9 and 7-6 in Big Ten Play after its third-straight win and fifth in its last seven games.
Wagner led the Wolverines with 21 points on 8 of 14 shooting. The German forward iced the game on a 3-pointer with a minute remaining to send the Crisler crowd into a frenzy.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman scored 12 points for U-M on 5 of 8 shooting. The junior added four rebounds and three assists.
Senior Derrick Walton, who entered the game averaging 20 points in the last two weeks, wasn’t much of a factor shooting with only five points, but chipped in eight assists and five rebounds. Walton’s best pass gave Michigan its first lead in the second half when he found Rahkman for a four-point play with 7:55 remaining.
The Wolverines only got six points from its bench, but shot 46 percent as a team and 39 percent on 3-pointers.
With Wisconsin starting point guard Bronson Koenig out with an injury, the Badgers didn’t have much of an outside game and were lost when Michigan took Happ out of the equation. Koenig’s back-up, freshman D’Mitrik Trice, struggled mightily in his absence shooting only 2 of 15 from the field.
Nigel Hayes was also contained by junior D.J. Wilson who held the star forward to only six points.
Home Court Advantage
Being there in attendance was absolutely surreal. I’ve been to several games there over the years and never heard Crisler that loud before. With how lackluster this season has been at times, that energy was sorely needed and helped spark the team to one of its biggest wins in recent memory.
The game felt like a must-win for Michigan considering four of its last five games are on the road and U-M has only one road win this season.
If the Wolverines can simply take care of business the rest of the way and win the games they’re supposed to win, they will surely be in the big dance for the second-straight season.
Michigan travels to Minnesota on Sunday to play the Gophers. Tip-off is at 9 p.m. Minnesota hasn’t beaten the Wolverines since 2011.