UM's Zak Irvin savors unforgettable senior moment
Ann Arbor — Senior forward Zak Irvin stood near midcourt with family and friends and soaked in the moment.
Roughly an hour after Michigan beat No. 14 Purdue, 82-70, Saturday on Senior Day, Irvin lingered in the middle of an empty Crisler Center taking photos and sharing laughs.
It wasn’t a memorable performance for Irvin by any means. He finished 2-for-8 from the field and had four points, two rebounds and an assist in 30 minutes.
But for Irvin and fellow seniors Derrick Walton Jr., Mark Donnal, Sean Lonergan and Andrew Dakich, it was the last home game of their Michigan careers.
“Walking up the tunnel with the guys, jumping up and down before we go out there, that's a memory that I'll always cherish,” Irvin said. “Walking out with the family, too, was something special. Being able to stand on the block M and sing the fight song after the game was a great feeling.”
The five seniors were all honored in a pregame ceremony where a video montage was shown of them talking about their time at Michigan before they were introduced one by one and presented with a framed jersey.
Realizing the weight of the moment, sophomore center Moritz Wagner wanted to do everything he could to come away with a win. He responded with his best performance of the season, scoring a career-high 24 points and keeping Purdue star Caleb Swanigan in check for most of the game.
“We were going into this with a lot of emotions,” Wagner said. “Those five guys dedicated four years of their lives to this program and they lived the block M. They represented every day and just five great personalities. I’m very proud to be friends and brothers with them.”
After Michigan (19-10, 9-7 Big Ten) wrapped up the victory, Irvin and Walton addressed the fans, something Irvin said was spur of the moment. The tandem also led the crowd in singing “Hail to the Victors,” a celebration typically reserved for the locker room after wins.
“This is another great moment, being able to sing the fight song at the end of the game, beating Purdue, a ranked team,” Irvin said. “The list goes on and on but it's the bonds we've been able to create us seniors and the rest of the team, that's something that we'll never forget.”
If there’s one moment Michigan coach John Beilein and Irvin wanted to see, it was Lonergan capping the win with a basket in the final seconds.
After Purdue (23-6, 12-4) scored with 17 seconds left, Lonergan got the ball near midcourt and had an open lane to drive to the rim for an uncontested dunk or layup. Instead, Lonergan opted to pull out and dribble out the clock.
“I wish Sean would've went and just laid it in,” Beilein said. “He wanted to be the good gentleman and sportsman and not lay that one in. I think everybody, (Purdue coach) Matt (Painter) and his team would've forgiven him.”
Said Purdue guard and former Wolverine Spike Albrecht: “I thought he was going to stick it to us and go dunk it at the end … He's a senior, I could see it, but he pulled the classy move and that's just Michigan, all first-class. I wouldn't have been mad either way.”
Irvin said the decision just speaks to the type of person Lonergan is.
“He has great character,” Irvin said. “I still wish he would've done it now, not to show any disrespect to them, but just how cool is that? Throwing down a dunk and he had all these people here for him on Senior Night. Maybe he'll get another opportunity.”
After Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Walton’s recent play cut into freshman Xavier Simpson’s playing time, Simpson once again showed flashes of his potential.
He finished 2-for-2 from the field with a career-high tying seven points, two rebounds and two assists in 11 minutes.
Simpson’s two baskets came in impressive fashion. He weaved between big men Isaac Haas and Swanigan for a layup in the first half and capped a 7-0 run in the second half with a high-arcing 3-pointer from the corner.
“He's giving us great energy off the bench,” Irvin said. “With X being able to come in and play backup point when Derrick is on the bench, that's key for us.”
… After shooting 56.1 percent (23-for-41) from the free-throw line the past two games, Michigan was a perfect 11-for-11 against the Boilermakers.