PARADISE ISLAND, The Bahamas — After knocking down a 3-pointer early in the first half, Zak Irvin pounded his chest twice, yelled at his teammates and ran back on defense. The triple put the Michigan men’s basketball team up 10-9 four minutes into its game against Charlotte during the second day of action at the Battle 4 Atlantis. The made shot also gave the Wolverines a lead they never relinquished as they rolled to a 102-47 win on Thursday.
For Irvin, the made trey allowed him to breathe a sigh of relief. Just 24 hours earlier, in the same ballroom-turned-basketball court, Irvin had one of the worst shooting nights of his career, going 1-for-10 from the field and missing all six of his attempts from behind the arc.
On Wednesday against No. 18 Connecticut, Michigan’s shooting was like free food at the Atlantis Paradise Island Resort — nonexistent. The team combined to go 18-for-56 from the field. Irvin, along with redshirt sophomore Duncan Robinson — two of the Wolverines’ sharpest shooters — combined for just two made field goals.
After the game Wednesday, Michigan coach John Beilein said he didn’t think those two would ever have another shooting performance that poor.
Thursday, Irvin and Robinson made sure their coach’s prediction came true. After knocking down a 3-pointer early, Irvin came down on the following possession and knocked down a 12-foot baseline jumper. He went 4-for-7 in the first half and tallied 12 points as Michigan took a 44-22 lead to the locker room.
In eight minutes of play in the first half, Robinson didn’t record a single stat. But he rediscovered his stroke in the second frame and knocked down three 3-pointers from the corner.
“That’s all they have to do,” Beilein said of Irvin and Robinson. “If you remember Duncan’s first game against Northern Michigan, he couldn’t make a shot. Then all the sudden with Elon, he’s on the run. Then Zak just gains more confidence. … It’s just encouraging to see him knock down that first one. It was a beauty, and every other one looked like it was going to go, so he was a big part of that game today.”
More surprising than the reemergence of Michigan’s shooting, though, was the arrival of freshman forward Moritz Wagner. A 6-foot-10 product of Berlin, Germany, Wagner has been the team’s biggest mystery. In spot minutes in the Wolverines’ first four games, Wagner showed flashes of potential, and also moments in which he looked uncomfortable. Thursday night, Wagner looked like the player that Beilein has been hyping up since his commitment in April.
The freshman subbed in for sophomore forward Ricky Doyle less than three minutes into the game and made an impact early. He had a pseudo-assist after dishing to senior guard Caris LeVert, who got fouled on a 3-point attempt and made all three of his free throws. Two minutes later, Wagner drew a foul himself after knocking down a shot from the paint. He knocked down a free throw to complete the and-1 play — one of his two and-1s in a two-minute span.
Wagner also showed off his range, knocking down a 3-pointer late in the half. He ended his perfect first half with a tip-in to finish 6-for-6 from the field in the period. Wagner finished the game with 19 points.
“We don’t see all that in practice every single day, but we do see the energy and the passion every single day,” Beilein said. “He’s very skilled, and I think I told you earlier in the year, there’s minutes he’ll look awkward, but there’s other minutes where you’ll say, ‘Wow.’ … He’s got a really good package of skill right now.”
In the second half, Michigan put its foot on the gas, getting contributions from a cast of Wolverines and shooting 23-for-32 from the field. Seven Michigan players tallied at least six points in the second frame, led by nine from Robinson’s three triples.
With Michigan up big, Beilein also threw big men Mark Donnal and D.J. Wilson into the mix. The junior Donnal — after losing his starting spot and not getting any minutes in Michigan’s loss against Connecticut — tallied seven points in just as many minutes. Wilson, a redshirt freshman, was a perfect 3-for-3 from the field in the half and nailed two 3s as part of an eight-point night.
Sophomore guard Aubrey Dawkins also got time on the floor, picking up eight of his 10 points in the second frame. LeVert and junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. — Michigan’s most consistent scorers so far — chipped in with 13 and eight points, respectively.
Michigan’s 102 points set a new record for points in a game at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, and the win was Michigan’s first in program history against Charlotte in three tries. The 55-point deficit is the largest loss the 49ers have suffered in their history.
The win sets Michigan up to face Texas in the fifth-place game, to be played at 7 p.m on Friday.