Spike Albrecht’s pregame message to his team was simple: Don’t lose to Ohio State. Not again — and not at home.
While Michigan’s 64-57 upset over the Buckeyes on Sunday afternoon was one of its better all-around performances of the season, the veteran core of Albrecht and Zak Irvin were the driving forces that willed the Wolverines to the upset victory.
Irvin got hot early, scoring five points and grabbing three rebounds before the first TV timeout, while Albrecht’s steal of D’Angelo Russell slammed the door late.
The duo ultimately combined for 31 points and nine assists with no turnovers. Together they scored or assisted 19 of Michigan’s 26 made field goals.
“Just think about that,” said John Beilein. “Zak had five [assists] after six games and he gets four in one game. This is a thing we’ve addressed with him.
“Zak Irvin’s attitude during this adversity has been tremendous, and I think it paid off today.”
The sophomore forward played perhaps his most complete game of his career, establishing himself early on the boards and delivering interior passes on the pick-and-roll. But his biggest moment was an Irvin staple: A catch-and-shoot corner three, one which stopped a 14-0 Ohio State run and bumped the Wolverines’ lead back to six.
I just kept telling myself, ‘I’m going to make a big shot right here’
“I just kept telling myself, ‘I’m going to make a big shot right here,’ ” Irvin said of his clutch bucket with 6:10 to play. “Muhammad was able to find me, and I knew right when it left my hand it was going in.”
The shot broke a seven minute scoring drought by Michigan and provided a much-needed emotional boost for a team that had lost five games in a row and had just blown a 17 point lead in a matter of minutes.
Five minutes later, Max Bielfeldt dove to recover a loose ball, leading an Irvin drive and layup with 60 seconds left. Albrecht poked the ball away from Russell on the ensuing possession and then made a pair of free throws to put his team up 10.
“He was going to go coast-to-coast, and I was just thinking, ‘Man, he’s a lot more athletic than me, and he’s going to beat me down the court’ ” Albrecht said. “I was like, man, I’m tired, so I’m going for the steal. Fortunately, I was able to get it.”
That play capped an impressive offensive showcase for Albrecht, whose 5-for-10 shooting line included a pair of three-pointers and was complemented by assists so creative that Beilein expected the guard to commit a turnover.
“Who would’ve thought three years ago when I was recruiting him that he’d play 40 minutes and a team as good defensively as Ohio State would be in a full denial on Spike?” Beilein said. “ ‘Deny Spike Albrecht!’ A box and one was coming next.
“Who would’ve thought that would ever happen? He sees the game like we’d like everyone to see the game.”
With a win firmly within their grasp, Irvin and Albrecht didn’t hide their emotions in the final moments, provoking a Crisler Center crowd that had been giving them standing ovations all afternoon.
“A lot of frustration let out with those last couple of minutes,” Albrecht said.
And then Irvin and Albrecht returned to the locker room, victors for the first time in the month of February — and with the relief of having ended a five-game losing streak by triumphing over a rival, to boot.
“We have a tradition of not singing the fight song if we don’t win,” Beilein said. “So that locker room has been starved for the fight song, it seems for a couple of weeks. Our guys sang it with a lot of gusto today.”