ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Zak Irvin was the forgotten freshman.
While fellow frosh Derrick Walton has started at point guard for Michigan, Irvin rolled off the bench, playing spotty minutes behind emerging star Nik Stasukas.
As Stauskas was sidelined today with an ankle injury suffered last weekend in Puerto Rico, Irvin scored a career-high 24 points in the No. 22 Wolverines’ 87-45 win over Coppin State at Crisler Center.
Irvin was the big shot taker in last Sunday’s Puerto Rico title game loss to Charlotte but hit only 3-of-14.
Yet when Michigan (5-2) was looking for its offense today without its leading scorer, Irvin was the shot taker and shot maker. He finished the first half with a season-high with 10.
Then after the break, Irvin took off, hitting four consecutive three-pointers to vault him to a rare performance and the Wolverines into a 30-plus point lead as he finished the game hitting 6-of-10 three-pointers.
“When he came into the game, the floor expanded,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “We talked about his shot and he’s got this ability to get his own shot at times. He’s got great lift, it’s a pretty shot and it was sort of Tim (Hardaway Jr.’s) strength as well but you can overuse that. Just be a little bit more selective, make sure you’re in rhythm.”
Irvin did a little of everything, grabbing five rebounds and three assists, feeding Walton on a fast break and throwing an alley-oop to Robinson.
“With Nik being out, we needed someone to step up today and I think I was able to do that and my jump shot was falling today,” Irvin said with a bit of understatement.
Even after his struggles in Puerto Rico, his teammates and coaches told him over the past few days to keep shooting.
It was the chance for a freshman with a big resume — Irvin was Indiana’s Mr. Basketball coming out of Hamilton Southeastern — to show he’s worthy of the attention, seven games into the season.
In a season where he peaked at 10 points in the season opener and was 4-of-18 from three-point range since, gaining confidence was important.
“It’s definitely a relief to finally see some shots go down so hopefully I can continue to do this as the year goes on,” Irvin said.
The U-M coaches have seen Irvin hit his rhythm in practice, but for a player used to consistent minutes and opportunities, adjusting to a new role off the bench was a challenge.
Coppin State gladly played into Irvin’s hot hands as well, playing a fair amount of zone defense — which Stauskas would usually eat alive.
Having Irvin step up and take those shots help ensure today would be a bounce back for the Wolverines (5-2) with the Big Ten/ACC Challenge game looming at Duke on Tuesday.
“Actually he should have taken one more today, at the top of the key that he turned down,” Beilein said.