Returning home to begin a four-game stretch that should be much easier than its previous three, the Michigan basketball team welcomed the sight of Minnesota to Crisler Center on Wednesday night.
Along with Rutgers, the Golden Gophers (0-7 Big Ten, 6-13 overall) are comfortably at the Big Ten’s cellar, and showed it Wednesday. Even though the Wolverines (4-2, 14-5) shot just 30 percent from 3-point range and had one of their worst offensive performances of the season, they held on to beat Minnesota, 74-69.
MVP: Zak Irvin. The junior continued to round into form and dominated the opening half against the Golden Gophers. Irvin led the game with 19 points and season-high 11 rebounds, and shot north of 47 percent from the field on a night where the rest of the team shot just 36.3 percent.
In 5 games without senior guard Caris LeVert, Irvin is averaging 15.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game.
It was over when… Minnesota clawed back from a 15-point deficit in the first half to hang around the entire second half, and it was not until Michigan score five unanswered points with just under seven minutes remaining — spearheaded by a clutch three-pointer by Derrick Walton — that the Crisler Center crowd had any certainty that the Wolverines would win. To the Golden Gophers’ credit, they never seemed to fully go away, and fouled until the final horn, but didn’t play nearly well enough to pull off an upset.
Unsung hero: Derrick Walton Jr. didn’t have the best start, making just four of his first 11 shots and just one of eight jump shots, but the junior guard was a force at breaking Minnesota’s persistent press coverage, and ended the game ahead of Irvin with 22 points, six rebounds and two big shots to put the Gophers away after one final late push before hitting 11-of-12 free throws late. Walton hit plenty of free throws in the closing moments, but he also had a pair of critical baskets to stretch the lead to nine.
Key stat: It was an unseasonably cold night for Michigan, which made just 9-of-31 3-pointers. Prior to Wednesday, the Wolverines were 114 of 249, or 45.6 percent from beyond the arc at Crisler. Redshirt sophomore forward Duncan Robinson, who has emerged as one of the nation’s best 3-point shooters, was a staggering 3 of 10 from deep, and Zak Irvin was the only other Wolverine to make more than one three (3-of-5).