PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Virginia Tech’s Devin Wilson returned to the court for the final six seconds of his team’s NCAA tournament opening round game versus Alabama.
The McKees Rocks native’s homecoming was not supposed to end like this. Not after the Hokies had played so well in the first half, shooting 68 percent from the field as a team and hitting seven threes.
A Crimson Tide three-pointer just before the break seemed to swing momentum, and then Alabama’s phenom freshman took over in the second half.
Collin Sexton, a consensus top 10 NBA pick, scored 22 of his game-high 25 points after intermission to lead the Tide past Wilson and Hokies, 86-83, Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena.
Alabama will tussle with top seed Villanova Saturday for a berth in the Sweet 16. Virginia Tech heads home with its dreams shattered once again by another quick March exit. The Hokies lost to Wisconsin in the opening round a year ago.
For Wilson, this was supposed to be a dream come true.
The fifth-year senior starred at nearby Montour High School on both the hardwood and gridiron. He was named the Post-Gazette 2013 Male Athlete of the Year after setting Western Pennsylvania records for receptions and receiving yards in football and leading the basketball team to two WPIAL championships and two PIAA finals during his four-year career.
When the brackets were announced, his phone didn’t stop ringing. His journey was bringing him back home to Pittsburgh.
“At this moment I can’t image all the things that might come to my mind,” Wilson said of reflecting on his five-year career in Blacksburg. “Maybe at three or four o’clock this morning it will hit me a lot harder than it does right now.”
He briefly stepped away from basketball last year and played on the Hokies’ football team, missing a chance to experience the NCAA tournament with his teammates. That time away afforded him a fifth year of eligibility on the court, and fate gave him another chance to participate in one of sports’ greatest spectacles.
Virginia Tech started hot, and Wilson contributed with a few key defensive plays. But the Hokies never created any separation.
“The beginning of the game was good, we were playing well,” Wilson said. “We went into halftime with a good lead, but right now it’s not the greatest feeling in the world obviously.”
Virginia Tech led 43-41 after the first 20 minutes, but the scoring pace stalled in the second half before a closing flourish. Sexton took over late, scoring 16 points in the final 10 minutes. His step-back jumper with 1:34 remaining made it a two-possession game at 77-72, and the Hokies would get no closer the rest of the way.
“I thought they got a couple open looks, whether we were slipping or bad communication,” Wilson said of Alabama’s second half comeback. “They got a lot of good looks, and down the stretch they hit a couple big shots.”
Wilson’s only shot attempt was a layup that rolled out just before the final horn sounded. His teammate Tyrie Jackson tipped in the rebound, but it was too little, too late. Wilson could only describe the feeling of losing in his hometown as “bad.”
“You never want to take a loss no matter where you’re at in the country,” Wilson said. “It definitely doesn’t feel good, but the body of work we’ve accomplished since we’ve been here is what you’ll kind of hold your head at, so you focus on that.”
Wilson admirably answered every question in the post-game press conference, including speaking for teammate Justin Bibbs, who struggled to hold back tears. He attempted to drum up positives about leaving the program in better shape, yet the 6-foot-4 guard couldn’t shake the disappointment of Thursday night’s ending.
“That’s something you don’t think about right now,” Wilson said. “Maybe a couple weeks down the road you can kind of look back at that…as of right now, you’re upset that we lost and that’s all that is really on my mindset right now.”