Zak Irvin gets fired up for Michigan game at Indiana

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Bloomington, Ind. — Michigan sophomore Zak Irvin knew of the struggles the Wolverines had had in winning at Assembly Hall and being one of five UM players from the state of Indiana, he wanted a victory even more.

Michigan didn't get the win but Irvin, from Fishers, Ind., just north of Indianapolis, played one of his best games of the season, tying his season high with 23 points in 39 minutes of the Wolverines' 70-67 loss to the Hoosiers. He matched the 23 points he had against Bucknell on Nov. 17 with a mix of mid-range jumpers, baskets in the paint and 3-pointers.

"This was a personal one for me, especially for all the Indiana guys we have here — it's a big win that we wanted," said Irvin, who was 3-of-5 on 3-pointers. "I was just trying to get in a rhythm and I felt like I got in a rhythm in the second half."

Irvin scored 18 of his 23 points after halftime — and he hadn't scored more than 15 since Jan. 6. Coach John Beilein noted that Irvin had more versatility to his game and his five free-throw attempts were one off his season high.

"He's doing much better at just picking his spots — we even saw a shot fake or two today, which is really big," Beilein said. "He's learning those things and it's given him a lot of latitude to explore these different options to be so much more than a shooter. He showed some of those things today, plus he made some really tough outside shots that we needed at big times."

With Irvin a bigger weapon on offense, Michigan was able to stay close in the first half, and had a chance down the stretch and in the final minutes.

"I was really proud of the way he played today," said Spike Albrecht, who had seven assists. "That's something he's been really working on lately, the mental aspect of the game."

Albrecht and Irvin combined to score 19 of Michigan's final 21 points and with Irvin emerging as a multi-faceted weapon, the Wolverines could have found something that will help in their last six Big Ten games.

"He was really playing today, very confident out there, making moves and attacking the bucket," Albrecht said. "He has that in his game — he just needs to be aggressive moving forward. We need another guy to step up and do things and he's capable of doing that."

Beyond his contributions on the court, Irvin also was talking to the young players more, trying to give them confidence and get a tough road win, which Michigan hasn't done at Assembly Hall since 2009.

"He really stepped up today as a leader; he was more vocal, encouraging teammates," Albrecht said. "It really helps, especially the younger guys when they see him engaged and into it, it picks everybody up."

For Beilein, it's a partial turnaround for one of the best remaining players to end the season on a high note.

"He knows everybody has parts of their game that they have to work on and he realizes what some of those are and he's working really hard at them," Beilein said. "It showed today, taking the ball to the basket and selecting the times to take it to the basket. That is playing an in-between game and being strong at the goal. The key is shot fakes, ball fakes, landing on two feet, faking some more. He had one of those when he got to the foul line today."

Positives found

At 6-6 in the Big Ten, Michigan likely will need to win at least four of the last six to get in position to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight season. Irvin said there's a renewed sense of urgency in not letting that streak end and in having something to play for in the final weeks of the regular season.

Thursday's matchup at Illinois provides the next opportunity to bounce back — and to stay above .500 in conference play.

"This would have been a big win for us at Indiana," Irvin said. "Our backs are against the wall right now and we have to stick together and be ready for Illinois. It's a tough loss for us but we've got to string together some wins.

Even with the loss, the Wolverines saw a blueprint for things that they can use moving forward with a young squad. They're not focused on silver linings, but there are some positives.

"We really don't believe in moral victories but there are positives here; these guys fought hard," he said. "The bigs played really well for us and we just have to be more consistent to string together some wins and finish strong."

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

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