VT vs. Alabama: Wilson’s up and down ride with Hokies ending on high note

Devin Wilson’s basketball career at Virginia Tech has been circuitous to say the least. The senior point guard has had his share of ups and downs.
But lately he has been trending in a positive direction for the Hokies, who couldn’t be happier with his play.
Wilson has experienced the lows at Virginia Tech — two last-place finishes as a starting point guard his freshman and sophomore seasons. He had a limited role as a junior, and was a reserve wide receiver for the football teams and a basketball redshirt last season.
His playing time mirrored what began as a strained relationship with coach Buzz Williams.
Now, though, the 6-foot-4 Wilson has regained his starting job and he has been on a roll the last nine games. His relationship with Williams has also come full circle.
“I’ve never went from disliking a player as much as I did when I first got here to the respect that I have for him,” Williams said after reinserting Wilson into the starting lineup.
The turnaround on the court began last month when Williams grew disenchanted with the Hokies’ defensive effort in an 84-75 loss to Miami on Feb. 3.
When Virginia Tech played North Carolina State four days later, Wilson was in the starting lineup in an 85-75 victory . He was there again the next game, scoring seven points and matching his career-high with seven rebounds in a 61-60 overtime victory at ACC champion Virginia .
Wilson has said he and Williams clashed at times because both are bull-headed.
But the coach said their relationship has evolved.
“Devin & I never had any ‘issues,'” Williams said via text message to The Associated Press. “We were losing. As time has transpired, I have learned how smart he is off the floor — what an elite level (basketball IQ) he has. Our relationship has evolved in a good way.
“He has easily been the catalyst to all that we have done since Feb. 4.”
Wilson’s numbers won’t generally win him any honors — he’s scored 31 points in his nine starts — but some jump off the stat sheet.
In those nine starts, he’s averaged 20 minutes and has 20 assists and just one turnover.
Wilson’s 10th consecutive start will come in his first NCAA Tournament game when the eighth-seeded Hokies face Alabama on Thursday night. As a bonus, he and the Hokies will be playing in Pittsburgh, not far from Wilson’s hometown, McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania.
“It means everything,” Wilson said of the Hokies’ at-large berth. “The story is kind of funny. It didn’t start off too well but it’s starting to finish off very, very well.”
Williams likes the idea of Wilson getting to play close to home on the sport’s biggest stage.
“I think it’s only fitting that we’re playing in Pittsburgh and he’s had the impact over the last five-and-a-half weeks that he’s had,” Williams said.
He especially also likes the way Wilson — “an elite level leader,” Williams said — has impacted the Hokies on the defensive end.
In their first 14 games against Power Five programs, Virginia Tech allowed an average of 77.7 points. Since Wilson regained his starting role, the Hokies are giving up just 66.8 points. Along with Virginia, the teams they’ve beaten include No. 9 Duke (64-63) and No. 20 Clemson (65-58), both of which finished in the Top 25 .
In the ACC Tournament, however, the Hokies were beating Notre Dame by 21 in the second half before collapsing in a 71-65 loss .
“The way we finished that game wasn’t how we wanted to by any means,” Wilson said. “I think we go into the NCAA Tournament (thinking) ‘Hey, the worst has kind of happened.’ Now we can forget about it and start a new season.”
Or, as in Wilson’s case, script a better ending.

By HANK KURZ Jr., AP Sports Writer

The No. 8 seed Virginia Tech (21-11) plays ninth-seeded Alabama (19-15)

First round, East Region, Pittsburgh, 9:20 p.m. EDT on Thursday

BOTTOM LINE: Two programs with very little recent NCAA Tournament experience both get it this season with at-large bids. The Hokies are one of nine Atlantic Coast Conference teams in the field of 68.

BUZZ WORTHY: The Hokies had their best season under Buzz Williams and made the tournament for the second straight season. Guard Justin Robinson (13.8 points, 5.6 assists) is the top scorer on a team that has five players averaging double digits in points. The Hokies have lost four of five but have wins this season over tournament No. 2 seed Duke and No. 1 Virginia.

FANTASTIC FRESHMAN: Collin Sexton is the player to watch for the Crimson Tide. He averages 19 points and was named SEC co-freshman of the year and second team all-SEC. He dropped 40 points against Minnesota and his buzzer beater against Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament helped lead the Crimson Tide into the NCAA Tournament.

DID YOU KNOW: Alabama coach Avery Johnson also coached the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA Finals in 2006.

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