Zak Irvin making plays late. pic.twitter.com/R5Ia8IbGsp
— Big Ten Geeks (@bigtengeeks) March 17, 2016
Zak Irvin had been, for lack of a better word, terrible. His last shot had barely grazed the rim. His last drive had resulted in a depressingly predictable turnover. He'd made one three-pointer all game.
But when Irvin's defender ducked under a Moe Wagner screen, he didn't hesitate to rise and fire with Michigan down a point and less than a minute on the clock. Despite some trepidation from onlookers...
The look on John Beilein's face on that Irvin 3 pic.twitter.com/FbrqNjs3gH
— Patrick Barron (@BlueBarronPhoto) March 17, 2016
...Irvin's shot found twine. A couple stops and five free-throws later, Michigan booked a trip to Brooklyn to face six-seed Notre Dame.
While the game got the desired result, it's not one Michigan fans are likely to want to relive. Both teams went through first-half scoring droughts that exceeded six minutes. After the Wolverines finished the half on a drawn out 19-4 run to take an eight-point lead, they gave it all back in the first three minutes of the second before both teams went ice-cold.
John Beilein played Andrew Dakich for five frustrating minutes while Derrick Walton sat on the bench with foul trouble. For murkier reasons, he sat Wagner—Michigan's biggest bright spot all game—in favor of Mark Donnal and Ricky Doyle before rectifying that error for the home stretch.
While the Wolverines were effective when they attacked the basket against an undersized Tulsa squad, only Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman—and on a couple surprising occasions, Wagner—was willing to drive to the paint with any consistency. MAAR wasn't a paragon of efficiency with 16 points on 5/16 FG, but he created havoc on the Tulsa defense that led to putback opportunities and drew enough contact to get extra points at the line (6/8 FT).
Wagner, meanwhile, played like he should be the clear-cut starter at center. After recording two blocks all season, he had four tonight in addition to pulling down eight rebounds and making both his shot attempts, including a poster-worthy slam on a second-chance opportunity to give M a late three-point lead. Michigan functioned better on both sides of the court with Wagner on the floor.
Duncan Robinson opened the game with a three; while he wouldn't hit another until late in the game, he found other ways to contribute—he grabbed 11 rebounds, dished out a team-high four assists, and finished a few forays to the hoop to tally 13 points. The contributions of MAAR, Wagner, and Robinson—a sophomore no major program wanted, a freshman who barely clung to a role this season, and a D-III transfer—allowed Michigan to overcome underwhelming performances from their two go-to guys.
Then, with the pressure on, Irvin delivered. It wasn't pretty. It was, in fact, cringeworthy, as Beilein's face can attest. At this point in the year, however, the final score is all that matters.
Now somebody grab me a drink.