Through the first ten conference games, Virginia Tech was giving up 78.1 points per game, one of the worst marks in the ACC. Teams were lighting it up from three at a 41.6 percent clip, demoralizing a group that had yet to find its footing in one of the toughest conferences in the NCAA. The Hokies were in need of some spark of leadership to right the ship and change the mentality of a team with a middling 5-5 conference record following a home loss to Miami.
Enter Devin Wilson, the most unlikely of sparks. That is, until you understand who he is and what he has meant to this team.
In a surprising move, Head Coach Buzz Williams decided to insert the redshirt senior into the starting lineup in place of the struggling Ahmed Hill on Jan. 31 at Boston College. Hill, who has only shot 29.2 percent from downtown during conference play, was not able to contribute enough to the team to justify starter-level minutes.
Since Wilson has entered the lineup, Virginia Tech has elevated their play, evidenced by a 4-1 record over their last five games, with wins over No. 1 Virginia and No. 15 Clemson. The Hokies are 7-1 overall when Wilson starts. The defense has taken a noticeable leap, allowing 64.6 points per game in that timeframe, while holding four of those opponents to under 44 percent shooting. Against the Tigers, the ramp up in intensity on the defensive end of the floor was clear, as the Hokies went on a 20-5 run to essentially seal the game in the second half.
“I thought our energy levels were really high in the second half,” said Buzz.
“Since the Miami game, we have done 0 percent of anything relative to offense,” he continued. “And in many respects, we have been at the same clip offensively, but a distinctly better clip defensively.”
While the addition of Devin to the starting lineup may not coincide with an immediate betterment in play, it does overlap with the increase in energy. With the Hokies’ lack of depth in the front court, that energy will be the difference between looking pathetic defensively and winning games. The win over Clemson was the first time since 2011 the Hokies won a game where they shot 36.8 percent or less from the field. It was certainly an incredible defensive performance.
“Devin should get the credit, he’s led the charge defensively,” said Buzz, as he was describing the impact of some of the lesser known players who have contributed on the recent run of success.
During his time in Blacksburg, Devin Wilson has been an All-ACC freshman and become a plus defender. He communicates well, shows discipline in staying attached to his man, and mixes it up on the glass. So it is not exactly a surprise that the Hokies have improved on that end of the floor. The dramatic turnaround, on the other hand, is quite impressive. It has been a turning point for the team as a whole.
Wilson’s leadership has also helped Robinson grow and mature into the team’s most valuable player. In fact, since Wilson started to play more minutes, Robinson has had the best run of his career. The so-called engine of the team has averaged 17.8 points, 5.0 assists, and has guided Tech’s offense through both ugly and clean stretches of play in the last five games.
The effect that Wilson has had on Justin Robinson runs deeper than simply on the court, which speaks to the redshirt-senior’s character.
“He [Devin] is a very good guy,” said Robinson. “He’s a better person off the court. He’s been a mentor to me, keeps me up when I’m down, and keeps me level headed. I just think him being there for everybody and being a leader and trying to help me be a leader is big for us.”
Devin Wilson’s contributions have not been limited to the defensive end or the locker room. Wilson is not a superstar, dynamic offensive threat who defenses have to key in on. But he came up with two huge buckets as the shot clock was expiring to keep momentum on the Hokies’ side as a part of his 8 point, 2 assist performance. The level head Justin Robinson works towards keeping is already a part of Wilson’s game. Converting buzzer beating jump shots has become somewhat of a regular theme for “Late Clock Dev”, Wilson’s nickname due to his ability to knock down those types of looks.
“Every time, as soon as he caught it, all I called was ‘Late Clock Dev’ and I knew it was going in,” Robinson said. “He’s unconscious when it’s late [in the shot clock].”
“I’m a pretty confident shooter with the shot clock going down because I know I have to shoot it,” said Wilson, echoing Robinson’s sentiment. “I don’t have to think about it twice.
“I’m known for making shots at the end of shot clocks – practice, games, I think against Virginia I had one.”
With a 9-6 conference record thanks to Wilson’s resurgence as a key contributor to this team, the Hokies are in a great position to make the NCAA tournament. Tech has three wins over Top 10 RPI teams and now sit at 28th in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. They have a 10-8 record against teams in the first two quadrants.
The Hokies play host to Louisville on Saturday before No. 5 Duke visits Blacksburg on Monday. The Cardinals lost in blowout fashion to the Blue Devils last night by a score of 82-56.