One week ago, Zak Irvin was putting on one of the most miserable performances he’s ever had in a Michigan uniform.
The senior guard fouled out after shooting 2-for-13 from the field and failed to show up mentally, committing eight turnovers in the Wolverines’ 61-46 loss to South Carolina.
Fast-forward seven days to Michigan’s matchup against Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast/Big Ten Challenge, and No. 21 in maize looked like a completely different player at the start. Irvin drained his first two shots, going on to score 15 points in the first half.
But the Wolverines have only gone as far as Irvin has been able to take them, and in the second half the irrational shots and turnovers that plagued Irvin against the Gamecocks crept back into his game.
With Michigan (5-2) down by one with five seconds left, a miss on an ill-advised fade-back jumper would end up being the costliest of all the shots the senior has taken in both games.
After a pair of Hokie free throws, a 3-point attempt at the buzzer from redshirt junior Duncan Robinson couldn’t lift Michigan out of the hole. Virginia Tech (6-1) completed its come-from-behind effort to down Michigan, 73-70.
“We were trying to isolate him, and they took him away a little bit,” said Michigan coach John Beilein on Irvin’s missed jumper. “We know what to do when they take him away and we didn’t do it. It’s that simple.”
Added Irvin: “It’s part of my game. I showed it through the game, I was able to make that shot two or three times. I felt confident. It was there all night.”
The Wolverines once held a 15-point first-half advantage and a nine-point halftime lead. But the Michigan defense couldn’t stop the Hokies in the second half, as Virginia Tech was able to score on 59 percent of its possessions in the period, while shooting 52 percent from the field and a perfect 12-for-12 from the free throw line.
When Virginia Tech came within a point of grabbing the lead halfway through the second half, Michigan went on a 15-6 run powered by Irvin and Robinson that re-opened a 10-point lead. That would be the largest the Wolverines would extend their advantage in the period.
The Hokies ultimately closed the game on a 15-5 run over the final five minutes, with a smaller lineup led by Justin Bibbs, Zach LeDay and Seth Allen scoring the buckets in crunch time. It only helped Virginia Tech when redshirt sophomore forward DJ Wilson fouled out with three minutes remaining, allowing the Hokies to stretch the floor with a smaller lineup.
“They’re a veteran team,” Irvin said. “They made a run. You know, basketball’s a game of runs. We weren’t shooting the ball as well as we were in the beginning of the game. Basically, on defense, they were doing anything they wanted.”
With 1:46 remaining, Virginia Tech took its first lead of the contest off of Allen’s jumper. The guard put the Hokies up four on the following possession with a three from the top of the key. Despite Robinson sinking a bucket on the following possession that brought Michigan within one, Allen’s five-point spurt would be enough for the Hokies to pull out the road win.
“Thank goodness in my time coaching I haven’t seen too many games like there, where we lead the whole game and can’t make enough stops or finishes offensively to win the game,” Beilein said. “We just didn’t do enough — we’re back again, 52 percent from the field, just doing some strange things on defense. It really cost us.”
Irvin ultimately led the Wolverines in scoring with 23 points on 10-for-20 shooting. It was Irvin’s largest tally of the season thus far, but his eight-point second half saw him miss all four three-pointers he attempted, as well as the jumper with five seconds left that would have put Michigan back in the lead.
Robinson and junior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman followed Irvin in scoring with 15 and 13 points respectively, combining to shoot 10-for-21 from the field. Robinson was the Wolverines’ lone scorer off the bench, as just six Michigan players finished with points in the scoring column.
Sophomore forward Moritz Wagner was the only consistently effective scorer for the Wolverines in the second half, scoring seven of his 11 points in the period.
Michigan will look forward to a matchup with Kennesaw State on Saturday to recover from Wednesday’s devastating blow before a difficult week when it faces Texas and travels to No. 9 UCLA. With the non-conference season winding down, there’s no telling what sort of harm this loss could do to the Wolverines’ tournament résumé come March.