Monday, Zak Irvin headed to Crisler Center by himself and used the rebounding gun to practice his 3-point shooting.
He made about 400 of his 600 attempts.
After undergoing minor back surgery in September, Irvin struggled to get into an offensive groove. His shot wasn’t quite as smooth as it had been in previous years, and it has been apparent to his team — from Michigan coach John Beilein to junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. — that his stroke would be the last thing to return to full form and that high-volume practice would be necessary for recovery.
In 2013-14, he made 42.5 percent of his 3-point attempts. Last season, he hit 35.5 percent from beyond the arc. Going into Wednesday night’s matchup with Bryant (2-10), the junior forward had made just seven of his 41 3-point attempts this season.
But in Michigan’s final non-conference game, his practice seemed to pay off and he seemed to forget his troubles. He scored a season-high 16 points and shot 50 percent from beyond the arc. Irvin, along with senior guard Caris LeVert, who scored 19 points, led the Wolverines’ offensive onslaught to beat the Bulldogs, 96-60.
Irvin made his first 3-point attempt of the night, and from that moment forward, he had more confidence.
“That was a great feeling, I’m gonna be honest with you guys, especially the first 3,” Irvin said. “I know it’s been a long process for me, but I’m just trying to stay confident out there. But it’s always a huge relief and a great feeling when the first one goes in.”
Added Walton: “He knows that shots aren’t always going to go in, so he’s pretty even-keeled most of the time when he misses, but when he makes it, everybody smiles, definitely him.”
The first half of Irvin’s career proved he could be a reliable offensive weapon. Now, after struggling for the better part of the non-conference season, it’s hard not to consider what the return of his confidence could mean for the Wolverines.
“I’ve been feeling that pressure (to score) a little bit, but I just try not to think about it,” Irvin said. “I just try to stay confident. I know my teammates and the coaching staff believe in me, and I just think every shot I take is going to go in.”
Wednesday showed that he was playing less hastily. Eight minutes into the second half, he could have hurried on a fast break for a layup, but instead had the foresight to know that there was a better path to the basket. He made an easy pass to Walton, who shared it back so Irvin could lay it in.
At other times, he showed patience. LeVert threw a baseball pass to Irvin from the opposite side of the court for a dunk. Later in the game, Irvin had the ball and could have easily driven to the net for another, but instead bounced it to LeVert, who took it for a two-handed slam.
“It’s the holiday season, you know, giving to Caris … no, he helped me out in the first half with the dunk, so I thought I’d repay the favor there,” Irvin said.
Irvin’s teammates predicted that he would be the next one up if another Wolverine were to score a triple-double. Though he wasn’t able to do that Wednesday with six boards and two assists to supplement his 16 points, the energy from his 70-percent shooting night could easily carry over into upcoming games, starting with the Big Ten opener at Illinois on Dec. 30.
His comeback couldn’t have come at a better time.