NC State's Keatts: 'I think we learned a lot from tonight'
Three lopsided wins have provided just a small portion of the good vibes surrounding Kevin Keatts’ N.C. State basketball program.
Yes the Wolfpack has dominated three overmatched teams from one-bid leagues, beating VMI, Charleston Southern and Bryant by an average margin of 26.7 points over the season’s first five days.
The news that should really excite the fan base has come off the court.
Tuesday’s decision from the NCAA to reverse its initial ruling and allow transfer guard Braxton Beverly to play this season gives Keatts another guard to help fuel his up-tempo style of play.
Word from the NCAA on Beverly came just a few hours after the Wolfpack added another player to its already strong recruiting class for next season. Derek Funderburk, a 6-10 forward who is the No.1-rated junior college prospect in this year’s class, signed with N.C. State and joined four-star recruits Manny Bates, Saddiq Bey, Jericole Hellems and Ian Steere.
The Wolfpack already has two Division I transfers sitting out this season who will play next year in C.J. Bryce from UNC Wilmington and Devon Daniels of Utah.
Though N.C. State has four seniors on this year’s team, that’s a good amount of talent ready to step in.
With that on the horizon, Keatts is pushing his current team to a successful start to set the foundation for what appear to be even better days ahead.
As for this year’s team, the only piece still missing is senior forward Malik Abu, who has missed the first three games while recovering from a sprained MCL suffered last month. Abu was cleared to resume running last week and has progressed to taking shots this week.
“Malik is coming along,” Keatts said. “He’s starting to move effectively. I don’t have a time frame when he is going to play. But he is getting better.”
Abu’s return will only make an already good month for the Wolfpack program even better.
On the court so far, this year’s team is using Keatts’ full-court pressure defense to stifle opponents. Bryant turned the ball over 27 times, meaning all three N.C. State foes have turned it over 20 times or more.
Even when Bryant hit its first nine shots on Tuesday night to build a 19-7 lead, the Wolfpack was confident its defense could bring it back.
“Give it up to those guys,” N.C. State guard Torin Dorn said. “They just made shots early. But when you are a pressing team and a trapping team, you just have to stay the course. We turned up the pressure defensively, get the lead down and it went pretty handily from there.”
Yes it did. N.C. State turned things around to take a 10-point halftime lead and roll to a 95-72 win.
Beverly played 16 minutes in his debut, making just 1 of 7 shots after learning he’d be eligible to play less than two hours prior to tipoff. He’ll certainly have better nights when things normalize.
Keatts is glad to add him to N.C. State’s backcourt rotation. Dorn, Sam Hunt, Markell Johnson and Allerik Freeman started in the four-guard lineup against Bryant with Lennard Freeman the lone big man.
Freshman Lavar Batts came off the bench to play 18 minutes. Beverly’s 16 minutes make N.C. State even deeper.
“I’ve got two young guys that are going to be really good basketball players in an N.C. State uniform when you talk about Lavar and you talk about Braxton,” Keatts said. “I’m able to not have to play Al and Sam and Markell so many minutes. I can bring those guys (Batts and Beverly) along slowly. They give us depth. Braxton will be fine. You’ll see a different Braxton Beverly where he can make shots and run the team.”
N.C. State’s opening flurry of games continues with Presbyterian coming to PNC Arena Thursday night. A win there would give the Wolfpack four in seven days.
After that, the Wolfpack gets a break before traveling to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis where it plays Arizona on Nov. 22.
Facing the No. 3 Wildcats as an underdog might bring an end to N.C State’s great November under Keatts, but the way things are going that figures to be a momentary setback on the way to ACC play.