Michigan coach explains the senior forward didn't practice with the flu but that wasn't an excuse for his scoreless effort in Sunday's 70-62 loss.
East Lansing — It seemed like something wasn’t right with senior forward Zak Irvin.
In a rivalry game fueled by adrenaline and emotion, Irvin seemingly lacked energy as he came up well short on a couple of pull-up jumpers, missed a point-blank layup at the rim and airballed a 3-pointer to close out the first half.
Irvin finished 0-for-8 from the field with three turnovers as Michigan’s offense struggled to find a rhythm in Sunday’s 70-62 loss to Michigan State at Breslin Center.
However, it wasn’t just simply an off night.
According to Michigan coach John Beilein, Irvin had been battling the flu and didn’t practice on Friday and Saturday.
“It’s not an excuse. He’s not making an excuse. He told me at halftime, ‘Coach, I’m fine,’ ” Beilein said. “We were just trying to save him and hoping he could do all right, but it was obvious he wasn’t himself.”
Despite fighting through the illness, Irvin ended up playing 36 minutes, roughly around the 36.6 minutes he averages in conference play. Beilein said he was trying to manage Irvin’s playing time but was put in a tough spot since junior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman was in foul trouble most of the contest.
“He’s one of our best passers, he’s one of our best scorers. He plays three different positions for us,” Beilein said of Irvin. “It’s hard to take him out of there as long as he told me he felt right. If he felt he was dizzy or anything, he wouldn’t have been in there.”
In a game in which Michigan (14-8, 4-5 Big Ten) went through four stretches of at least four minutes without a field goal, including the final 6:05, a healthy Irvin might have made a difference.
Senior guard talks about Irvin's battling through flu-like symptoms in Sunday's 70-62 game.
Instead, Irvin, Michigan’s leading scorer at 14.4 points per game, posted his first scoreless outing since Nov. 16, 2015, against Elon, which was also his first game back from offseason back surgery last season.
It was also the first time in 126 career games Irvin played more than 15 minutes and didn’t score a point.
“He wasn’t 100 percent, that’s for sure,” said senior guard Derrick Walton Jr., who scored a season-high 24 points. “He did as much as he could. He fought on the defensive end ... and we really didn’t need to try to run anything through him (offensively). As a brother, I respect him for everything he gave us.”
Throughout Big Ten play, offense hasn’t been much of an issue for Michigan. But against the Spartans, the Wolverines shot 33.9 percent (19-for-56) from the field, marking the second-worst shooting performance of the season behind the 19.2 percent Michigan shot at South Carolina.
Michigan struggled for much of the first half, shooting 32.4 percent (11-for-34) before marginally improving in the second half at 36.4 percent (8-for-22).
Beilein said Michigan State shut down a lot of what Michigan was trying to run, particularly the pick-and-pop with sophomore center Moritz Wagner. Yet Wagner and Wilson said the problem stemmed from Michigan not being physical enough on offense and failing to attack the basket.
“We knew they were going to come out with a lot of pressure. That’s what they do, especially at home,” Wagner said. “We just got to be confident, gather yourself and go through second bump going to the rim instead of settling for jump shots. I think we settled a little bit too much in the first half. Then it’s a matter of shot making, too. If you make one shot at the beginning, it’s easier to go to the basket.”
Michigan fell to 0-6 in true road games, a concern considering the Wolverines close Big Ten play with four of their last five on the road.
“It’s all been the same story,” Beilein said. “In the first half or in the second half, there’s been two or three possessions that we’re just not as good as we need to be.”
... Wagner was involved in a couple of chippy moments. After losing the ball on a drive in the first half, he dove on the floor and got physical with Michigan State freshman Cassius Winston to force a jump ball.
Then with 3:16 left, Wagner and Michigan State freshman Nick Ward were whistled for a double technical foul.
“He kind of bumped me when I went into the huddle and that’s it,” Wagner said of the tech. “I went to my bench, that’s it. I didn’t even know that was a double technical.”