‘He loves the moment’: Irvin rescues UM in OT

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Zak Irvin turns and runs back down the court after making his winning shot Thursday.

Indianapolis -- So you're saying there's a chance.

With a gritty, if not pretty, 72-70 overtime victory over Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Thursday afternoon, Michigan's NCAA Tournament hopes remain alive.

Michigan (21-11) now gets top-seeded Indiana next, at noon Friday.

A win there and Michigan avoids a second consecutive miss of the NCAA Tournament, most experts -- and most Wolverines – agree.

"Every win helps," Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman said. "We've just gotta keep winning."

So far, so good, even if Northwestern, the No. 9 seed, gave eighth-seeded Michigan one heck of a scare.

But Zak Irvin, playing 16 miles from his hometown of Fishers, Indiana, hit a jumper with 3 seconds left in overtime to put Michigan up two.

Northwestern's court-length inbounds pass was picked off by Derrick Walton Jr., who thought he had run out the clock -- but actually stepped out of bounds with 0.6 seconds left. That gave Northwestern (20-12) one more shot, and Nathan Taphorn's 3-point attempt was short.

BOX SCORE: Michigan 72, Northwestern 70 (OT)

"I felt like, 'Not again.' We've been on the bad end of these enough," Walton said. "That's another area of growth for me -- be a lot more aware of where I'm at."

Duncan Robinson, who missed the second of two free throws late in regulation that helped lead to overtime, drained two huge 3s in overtime, including one with 46 seconds left to tie the game.

Robinson finished with 21 points, his most since Jan. 23 at Nebraska, and was 4-for-6 on 3-pointers, snapping a recent slump with his bread-and-butter.

Tre Demps cut Michigan's lead to 67-66 with a second-chance 3-pointer with 2 minutes, 4 seconds left, and after an Irvin miss on a poor shot selection on the other end, Demps drove the lane for a layup that put the Wildcats up by one.

Abdur-Rahkman missed a layup, and Taphorn was fouled and made both free throws with 1:02 left to give Northwestern its biggest lead, three, since it led 3-0.

Michigan called timeout and drew up a play for Robinson, who nailed a 3 from the corner to tie the game at 70.

Bryant McIntosh missed a jump shot for Northwestern, giving Michigan the ball and, seemingly, the final shot. Oddly, Wildcats coach Chris Collins opted not to defend the Wolverines' inbound, even though that's been a struggle this season for Michigan, which needed to burn back-to-back timeouts close to the end of regulation before getting the ball in on the third try.

Collins, surely, was avoiding a foul. Walton brought the ball up, wasted some clock, and when it was go-time, he handed it off to Irvin, who drilled the 15-footer.

"I'm going with him. He'll figure something out," coach John Beilein said. "He hit a big shot."

Irvin finished with 19 points on 6-for-16 shooting. He can have off-nights -- he's had a lot of them this season, as he's tried to get back to his normal game following offseason surgery on the back. But this is for sure -- he's not afraid of the biggest moments.

Walton was the second option on that play, but as Walton laughed about later, he knew with Irvin the No. 1 option, there was no second option.

"He loves the moment," Walton said. "That's the type of guy he is."

In overtime, Michigan survived the fouling-out of Mark Donnal on a very late call that, until the whistle, looked like a significant Wolverines steal.

The game went to overtime because of Michigan killer Alex Olah, who wasn't much of a factor in the first half -- then was huge after that.

He scored 16 of his 20 points after halftime, including the tying floater with less than a second on the clock in regulation to send the game to overtime. He got the offensive rebound off the Demps miss, and came up clutch as the Northwestern bench celebrated.

Collins suggested the Olah basket should've been the winner. After Michigan finally got the ball in on its third attempt, it went to Robinson, who was swarmed by two defenders in the corner. Replays suggest he might've traveled, but Northwestern was called for the foul and he went to the line.

"Looked like a lot of steps," Collins said. "You guys watched the game. Make your own determination."

Olah, the big man, in his last four games against Michigan, has scored 19 and 20 (this season), and 22 and 25 (last season). He also had 13 rebounds.

Demps scored 21 and McIntosh 19.

Irvin and Abdur-Rahkman each had eight rebounds for Michigan, and Walton had five assists -- including on the two biggest buckets in OT, by Robinson and then Irvin. Walton only had two points, on free throws late, and didn't have a field goal for the first time since December 2014. He was 0-for-7, but did a lot of other things well, notably defense.

Michigan held Northwestern to 36.8-percent shooting; the Wolverines’ magic number always is to get it below 40 percent.

"He played some really good defense," Beilein said of Walton. "Maybe his legs were tired or whatever, because he played such good defense.

"I won't say anything (to him). We'll just move on and tell him to make the next shot.

"He's always good for a bounce-back game."

Michigan threatened to turn this into a rout early, going on a 16-0 run after Northwestern made the first basket of the game. But the Wildcats, who won three games in a row since losing to Michigan on Feb. 24, kept battling, and made the first game of the day in Indy an entertaining one.

Even Andrew Dakich got in on the act in the first half, making his first 3 of the season.

Michigan led, 34-25, at the half, but as often is the case when Michigan and Northwestern meet, it's usually not over until the clock hits zero.

The Wolverines, a fatigued bunch already given the number of minutes the starters have had to log this season, would've preferred not to have to play an additional five minutes, but since they're still in this thing, they'll take it -- and go for the upset against an uber-athletic Indiana team that waxed Michigan at Crisler Center on Feb. 2 on a strength of an unbelievable 29-0 run.

"We're really excited for the opportunity. This is do or die for us," Robinson said. "We're hungry, for sure.

"It's all eyes on Indiana."



Michigan vs. Indiana

What: Big Ten tournament

When: Friday, noon

Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

TV / radio: ESPN / WWJ 950

At stake: Winner advances to the semifinals against Illinois, Iowa or Purdue