Early on, Georgia Tech’s Michael Devoe is scoring among the NCAA’s leaders

Tech guard Michael Devoe draws a foul for the three point play shooting over Bethune-Cookman defender Cletrell Pope in the final seconds for a 68-65 victory Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, at McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta.
Tech guard Michael Devoe draws a foul for the three point play shooting over Bethune-Cookman defender Cletrell Pope in the final seconds for a 68-65 victory Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, at McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta.

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Georgia Tech guard Michael Devoe dribbled just past the half-court stripe, measuring up Nebraska guard Haanif Cheatham. One dribble between the legs as he began his attack, then two hard dribbles as he drove left, aided by a screen from forward Moses Wright at the top of the 3-point arc.

Now driving on both Cheatham and a help defender, Thorir Thorbjarnarson, Devoe drew contact on Thorbjarnarson and laid the ball off the glass, getting the foul and the basket. Devoe made the and-one free throw in the Yellow Jackets’ win over the Cornhuskers on Wednesday night, part of a 26-point game for the sophomore in what has been a remarkably common occurrence.

After six games, Devoe has scored 20-plus points five times and, at 23.8 points per game, ranked sixth in Division I in scoring through Thursday’s games, the lone power-conference player in the top 10. He has made 17 of 29 3-point tries, making him the most accurate 3-point shooter (58.6 percent) in the season’s early going. He also has shown a knack for drawing fouls. He has made 35 trips to the free-throw line.

He’ll get another test Saturday when the Jackets play their second ACC game of the season, at home against Syracuse.

“Just all the hard work is paying off,” Devoe said Friday. “I worked really hard this summer and this past spring to really lock in on the season, and (coach Josh Pastner) expected for me to step up and then do these type of things. That’s all. It’s just all lining up at this point.”

With point guard Jose Alvarado out with an ankle injury, guard Bubba Parham laboring to find his 3-point shot and guard Jordan Usher still two weeks from gaining his eligibility after transferring from USC, Devoe has provided a major scoring lift for a Tech team that often was desperate for offense last season, when it finished last in the ACC in offensive efficiency.

Devoe has built on a strong finish to his freshman season. Coming off the bench, Devoe averaged 7.1 points per game. He started the final 23 games, averaging 10.7 points per game and hitting double figures 13 times. It was the process of a freshman adjusting to a new level of play and also finding his form after missing much of the preseason with a toe injury.

After the season, Devoe worked with assistant coach Anthony Wilkins to advance his game. Among the areas of focus – his footwork, first step off the dribble, shooting off the dribble and reading the defense off the pick and roll.

“A lot of scenarios we had a lot of work on last year, but he’s worked really, really hard,” Wilkins said. “And beyond that, as well as he’s playing, he still has so much room to get better. I truly believe that.”

He has been a more effective scorer at the basket, not only using the seven or eight pounds of muscle that he added over the summer, but also a wider assortment of methods to get free to the basket.

The 3-pointers get the notice, Wilkins said, “but when you look at his efficiency in the box and efficiency in terms of changing of pace on the way downhill to the box is what’s made him a really efficient scorer.”

The 3-point shot did get plenty of work, too. Tech players work on their 3-pointers with what they call the “Two-minute drill.” In a set-up similar to 3-point shooting contests, players have to make five 3-pointers from each of five spots around the arc in as little time as possible. Devoe said he holds the team record at 58 seconds, in which he was 25-for-26.

“(Wilkins) helped me a lot off the pick and roll, just being sound using my feet,” Devoe said. “Absorbing contact, using guys, just making great reads. He’s definitely helped me a lot.”

Devoe has not padded his numbers against pushovers, as the Jackets have played four games against power-conference competition. He had a sterling game against the Cornhuskers – 26 points on 10-for-16 shooting (4-for-8 on 3-pointers), eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals.

“He plays with a great pace to his game,” Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s got a great hesitation move and obviously shoots the heck out of it.”

In scoring 143 points in six games, he has surpassed the best six-game stretch of former Tech star Josh Okogie, who dropped 132 points in a six-game run late in his sophomore season. Pastner said that Devoe’s scoring rate did not seem out of the ordinary to him, though he wants him to defend better and take better care of the ball.

“Mike has played at a very, very high level,” Pastner said. “We need him to continue to play at that high level, but we need other guys to make some shots at the same time.”

Early on, he might be the best example of Pastner’s vision for the Jackets, winning recruits below the radar of the likes of Duke and North Carolina and then developing them over the course of their careers. Devoe was the No. 51 recruit in his class (247Sports Composite), picking Tech over the likes of Wake Forest and USC.

Devoe may need to continue to his scoring binge. Alvarado is not expected back until the Jackets’ Dec. 31 game at Florida State. Usher will miss the Syracuse and Kentucky games and become eligible against Ball State on Dec. 18.

Devoe sounded willing to take on the load.

“I feel like this is how the season’s going to be,” Devoe said Friday. “I’ve got to stay consistent and just continue to work hard and continue to take care of my body and things like. I feel like this is going to go on the whole season.”

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