In the closing minutes of Marquette’s 79-69 win over No. 16 Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon, Jamil Wilson grabbed a long rebound off a Tray Woodall missed 3-pointer and found himself all alone, streaking down the right sideline.
Wilson finished off the possession — and the Panthers — with an emphatic two-handed slam, putting the finishing touch on his fourth straight impressive performance that seems to have put his early season inconsistencies behind him.
The redshirt junior’s versatility was on full display in the win. Wilson hit on two 3-pointers, a pair on dunks and a mid-range jumper, something Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon made him a difficult cover for his usually-stout defense.
“[Wilson] made jump shots and that makes him obviously harder to guard,” he said. “And I thought that was something that hurt us, mid-range jump shots and threes. That got them going, especially in the first half.”
The redshirt junior finished Saturday’s win with 13 points and eight rebounds, his highest combined point-rebound total since late November. In the last four contests — three of which were Marquette wins — Wilson has averaged 11.8 points and 5.0 rebounds on 50 percent shooting.
His increased productivity has given another dimension for the first-place Golden Eagles. Wilson averaged just 7.8 points and 3.8 rebounds in December, and followed it with averages of 7.1 points on 44 percent shooting in January.
Vander Blue, who led Marquette with 19 points on Saturday, said Wilson’s new-found consistency may be the key factor in the Golden Eagles making a run deep into March.
“I feel like he can do what he did tonight, every night. He’s the best player on our team and we need him to play like that to get far in March and to finish out the Big East season,” Blue said, “because with him being another threat we’re really hard to guard and really tough to contain.”
Blue’s humility is admirable — Blue and Cadougan seem to be better fits for “best player” — and in terms of pure talent he’s not that far off. A top-30 recruit out of high school in Racine, Wis., Wilson has shown spurts of dominance in his two-plus-year career at Marquette.
Earlier this season he averaged 15.0 points on 81.1 percent shooting and 5.3 rebounds in a three-game stretch. And while consistency has plagued him in a season some expected would be his year to break out, the athleticism and basketball I.Q. have always been visible.
“When he’s in the right emotional frame of mind or spirit, he’s really good,” Buzz Williams said after calling him as good a player as he’s had at Marquette. “He’s smarter than anybody in our program, including coaches. Off the chart.
“For him to have the versatility that he has, to be able to do all of our stuff from a frontcourt position and a backcourt position, and then to be able to absorb all the preparation that goes into absorbing the scouting report…Jimmy Butler had some shades of that, which is why I think he was drafted, Jamil has a better skill set, but his intellect is as good as anybody as I’ve coached in 19 years.”
That “intellect” has been seen in Wilson’s shot selection and subsequent field goal percentage improving, and his turnover numbers are down, too — he has turned the ball over nine times in his last 11 games after doing so 23 times in the 11 games before that stretch.
The offensive numbers are there, but Wilson’s versatility has also improved Marquette’s defense. For the first time in their respective careers, Davante Gardner and Chris Otule saw the court together. Williams said that wouldn’t have been possible without Wilson’s effort.
“He changes the complexion of our team,” Williams said of Wilson. “The only reason, and we’ve practiced it but we’ve obviously never shown it, the only way that we’re able to play what we call big – with Chris and Davante on the floor at the same time – is because of Davante’s skill set, but without Jamil’s intellect to be able to go back and forth we can’t do it.
“And I thought at times today what we were doing offensively and defensively with that big group, it’s because of the consistency that Jamil was playing with.”