UM's Zak Irvin cherishes coveted win in Assembly Hall

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Bloomington, Ind. — After coming up short twice, senior forward Zak Irvin finally checked one of his goals off the list.

In his final game at Assembly Hall, Irvin, a Fishers, Ind., native and former Indiana Mr. Basketball, walked away victorious as Michigan led from start to finish in Sunday’s 75-63 triumph over Indiana.

Coming off a win over rival Michigan State last week, senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. said he wanted to do everything he could against the Hoosiers for Irvin, senior forward Sean Lonergan and senior guard Andrew Dakich — all Indiana natives.

"Man, I gave Zak a big hug. I gave Dak a big hug. I gave Sean a big hug (after the game),” said Walton, who finished with 25 points. “I know how personal it is. You play against your in-state rival and you get a chance to win, especially on their court. That's a memory that's going to be forever set in their heads. I was just extremely ecstatic for those guys being able to get this win."

While Irvin snapped the streak, he wasn’t able to snap out of his shooting slump. He shot 1-for-8 from the field and finished with five points, three assists and two rebounds in 32 minutes.

Since coming down with the flu ahead of the Jan. 29 meeting against Michigan State, Irvin is averaging 3.3 points, 2.5 rebounds and two assists in 33.8 minutes over the past four games.

“He's just one or two shots away from changing this thing,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “We got to continue to look at the big data, the big body of work with him. When you watch him shoot drills, you watch him on the gun (machine), you know nothing is broken.

Michigan earns 'really good win' at Indiana

“It could be like in baseball, this bloop single to right field that gets him off the schneid. Something is going to happen good for him and it's really going to help our team."

Irvin was aggressive and looked for his shot early, but missed his first two 3-point attempts in the first five minutes of the game before being fouled on a layup at the rim and completing the three-point play at the 12:34 mark.

From there, Irvin missed his next five shots over the final 32 minutes and was well off the mark on a few attempts. He airballed an open mid-range jumper, barely grazed rim on the final shot of first half and drew nothing but glass on pull-up 3-pointer in the second half.

Yet, Walton said he's not worried about Irvin’s continued struggles.

“He's doing more little things that's making us a lot more successful. His offensive woes, like I said, I'm never concerned,” Walton said. “That guy worked his tail off all summer and he's just going through a funk. He's just making sure he's keying in other things like defending, rebounding and when he's done that the last three games, we've been successful.

“So he's going to get back to himself. I'm encouraging him and I'm making sure he's staying confident. With a guy like him he doesn't need a confidence builder, so I'm just excited we got a win and going forward I know he's going to be more aggressive."

Pit-bull mentality

Prior to the Michigan State game, Beilein showed his team pictures of pit bulls during his pregame speech to send the message that they need to play with a rough and tough demeanor.

After beating Indiana, Beilein busted out the pit bull picture again and placed it on Walton’s back in the locker room during the team’s postgame meeting.

"That's just the mentality that we want. That picture pretty sums up how we want to play,” Walton said. “Just be angry, play with a chip on our shoulder and pretty much got this attitude that we're going to take the win, you're not going to give it to us.”

Walton said the picture “100 percent” embodies his game and it sort of served as an MVP award for the win.

“I'm just a tough guy,” Walton said. “I play through injuries, go get rebounds. It's just what I do and I know my teammates appreciate it.

"In a sense, that's the first one I've ever seen (Beilein hand out). I got a picture for a trophy I guess."

Slam dunks

With five rebounds, Walton has 498 for his career and is closing in on becoming the first Wolverine to record 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 400 assists. He’s also the first Wolverine since Nik Stauskas (2013-14) to score at least 20 points in five straight games.

… Junior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman held Indiana’s leading scorer James Blackmon Jr. to six points on 2-for-7 shooting in 26 minutes. In the first meeting, Blackmon was held to a season-low four points.

It’s the only two games this season Blackmon hasn’t scored in double digits.

… Redshirt sophomore forward D.J. Wilson said he tweaked his left ankle Jan. 29 at Michigan State and has played through discomfort, but felt 100 percent again against Indiana.

… Indiana coach Tom Crean on sophomore center Moritz Wagner accidentally running him over along the sideline after hitting a 3-pointer late in the first half: “I took the Wagner hit, jumped right up. Hope I get credit for that.”

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