Nov. 30, 2013
By Jenny Herstein, U-M Public and Media Relations
On Friday night (Nov. 29) Michigan faced a disciplined Coppin State team that tested the young Wolverines with a variety of zone defenses, including 3-2 and 2-3 zones. Coppin State would collapse its defense leaving exposed spaces on the perimeter. An open three-point attempt would normally seem like a gift for Michigan, given the presence of sophomore Nik Stauskas on the roster. The Wolverines' go-to shooter from beyond the arc led U-M in scoring in all three matchups during the Puerto Rico Tip-Off last weekend (Nov. 21-24).
However, late in the championship game of the tournament against Charlotte, Stauskas injured his ankle, and was unable to play in Friday's contest. The Wolverines had to find another shooter to take advantage of the spaces left by the Eagles and stretch their defense. As Michigan sailed to an 87-45 win, it was freshman Zak Irvin who filled this role.
With Stauskas on the bench, Irvin took on the challenge of playing major minutes for the Wolverines. This was the second time that he had been called upon to take this role, having stepped in to replace sophomore Glenn Robinson III in the final of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off when Robinson went down with a back injury. Irvin struggled with his shot netting only 3-of-14 attempts (21.4 percent) on the night. However, Irvin continued shooting and hit a critical three-pointer with only 21 seconds left in the game to bring Michigan within two points of the 49ers. Although Michigan was unable to get the victory, Irvin's three-pointer had given the Wolverines a chance. Friday night, Irvin was able to continue to look past doubters and his previous shooting woes as he was once again called on to be a major contributor.
"I tend not to worry about what other people think," Irvin said. "I care about those guys in the locker room and the coaching staff that keep me confident and keep me level headed. I'm just able to go out there and knock down shots."
Inspired by his teammates, Irvin proved his shooting ability in front of the cheering crowds at the Crisler Center, going 9-for-13 (69 percent) from the field and 6-for-10 on three-pointers en route to a career-high 24 points. His impressive shooting performance included a stretch of three consecutive three pointers that energized the fans and the team alike. It also stretched Coppin State's defense and provided opportunities for other players.
"For him to have that coming off the bench as a reserve for Nik (Stauskas) or Caris (LeVert), or Glenn (Robinson) or whoever is huge for us," said head coach John Beilein. "When he came into the game the floor expanded. When we were playing with the two big guys (Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary), we did ok but we couldn't expand like we could against the zone. He was great."
While Irvin's hot shooting was the headline of the night, the freshman contributed to the victory in other ways. Irvin collected five rebounds and handed out three assists, including a pass to Robinson for a crowd pleasing alley-oop dunk. And while his offensive performance was noted by all, Beilein stressed that Irvin's defense was equally solid.
"He's one of those rare shooters," Beilein said. "Zak can shoot and defend. And really those are his two things. Our defense picked up a lot."
While Irvin's shooting may have brought the Wolverine faithful to their feet, it was fundamentals such as defense, rebounding, and passing that allowed Michigan to be victorious. Not only did the freshman's shooting improve from the games in Puerto Rico, but the entire team learned valuable lessons from watching film of the tournament. Irvin stressed that a team effort caused the Wolverines to come out on top.
"I would just say all around team defense (is something we learned)," Irvin said. "We let up over 80 points against UNC-Charlotte, but we let up less than 50 tonight, so we were able to get on the boards and be in the gaps and just play good defense."
"Only giving them 22 points in the second half was great," added Beilein.
Many Wolverines contributed to the 42-point victory. With Stauskas out of the lineup, Michigan chose to start each half with two bigs, playing co-captain Morgan at the five and McGary at the four. Morgan led the team early, ending the night with six points and five offensive rebounds.
The Wolverines also shared the ball well, recording 19 assists on 32 field goals. Sophomores LeVert (15 points) and Robinson (14) joined Irvin in double-digit scoring.
"We watch a lot of film and we watch it with the team and we were able to break (the film from Puerto Rico) down," said Beilein. "This is a pretty high IQ team as far as making changes as we need to make them."