The NC State men’s basketball team bounced back after its opening game loss against Georgia Tech by comfortably defeating Detroit Mercy 84-65 Sunday afternoon at PNC Arena.
Junior guard Braxton Beverly stole the show with 23 points on six made 3-pointers in a game where senior guard Markell Johnson struggled scoring-wise in his return from injury.
“Braxton [Beverly] did a great job,” said NC State head coach Kevin Keatts. “It was a career high for him in points and made 3-pointers. I thought he did a tremendous job getting us going.”
Redshirt senior guard C.J. Bryce followed up his 24-point game against Georgia Tech with 19 against Detroit Mercy (0-1), with 12 of those coming in the second half.
The Wolfpack (1-1) scored right out of the gate, five seconds into the game off a 3-pointer by Beverly. Starting with a layup by Bryce, NC State would go on a 10-0 scoring run, putting the score at 13-3.
The NC State defense came out with loads of energy in its full-court press, forcing two 10-second half-court violation turnovers in the first 10 minutes of the game. Immediately after a block on the defensive end, freshman forward Manny Bates threw down a powerful alley-oop dunk off a lob from Beverly, sending the crowd crazy inside PNC Arena.
After missing his first two attempts from behind the arc, graduate transfer Pat Andree drilled a 3-pointer to extend the Wolfpack’s lead to 25-15.
Bates was all over Detroit Mercy on defense in the first half, with three electrifying blocks to go along with his two finishes above the rim.
“I got a passion for blocking shots, so this is my time here,” Bates said. “I embrace everybody driving in and trying me, so I can correct that mistake of them coming down. That’s my No. 1 skill; it’s the biggest thing I’ve been working on, just blocking shots and working to try to get rebounds.”
The Wolfpack would struggle to score toward the end of the first half, entering halftime with a rough stretch in the last 2:25, going 1 for 8 from the field.
In what would be the Wolfpack’s only bucket of the last three minutes of the first half, sophomore forward Jericole Hellems worked his way inside and finished a tough lay-in to give NC State a 43-30 lead, which is what the score would be at halftime.
Beverly was on fire from 3, making his first three attempts and perfect in five attempts from the free-throw line, putting him at 14 points.
Antoine Davis was keeping Detroit Mercy in the game. He would finish with 28 points, being the only Titans scorer in double digits.
In his first game of the season, Johnson struggled to find his scoring, but was effective passing the ball and rebounding, dishing out six assists and grabbing five boards in the first half.
“I always start off the game like that, trying to get my teammates involved and get them going,” Johnson said. “Like [Braxton], he was going today, so I was just trying to get the ball to Braxton.”
Johnson would grab another assist early on in the second half, with a creative bounce pass through traffic that gave Bryce an easy lay-in. Bryce would score six straight points for NC State to increase its lead to 51-34.
“He had a quiet 19 points, but I thought he did some good stuff,” Keatts said. “If we are going to be successful, our veteran guys obviously got to lead us. C.J. [Bryce] is one of them, and Markell [Johnson] is the other. He's put together two back-to-back games, and when you get to your senior year, that's what you want from your seniors, to be able to do that.”
Beverly would continue to find his stroke with a corner 3 in the second half, which would extend State’s lead to 56-38.
“It feels good, especially in a zone like that,” Beverly said. “That’s a really good way to beat it. Once you get two or three, you start to get in a rhythm and start looking for gaps to hit shots.”
Johnson finally scored his first points of the game, after missing his first six shots, with a 3-pointer from the top of the key, putting the score at 61-43.
Teams would trade buckets for the next few minutes, as the Wolfpack was able to maintain its big lead with the help of redshirt junior forward Devon Daniels’ 3-pointer and a Bryce turn-around corner jumper to end any thoughts of a late comeback for the Titans.
Johnson would record his 10th assist of the game on a Beverly 3-pointer to push the lead to 74-56 right before the final media timeout of the game.
“It was good to have Markell back on the floor, even though he didn’t score,” Keatts said. “He led us in assists and rebounds. He moved the ball. It's good to have a legitimate point guard out there to be able to make some plays.”
Bates was an exceptional force in the paint, finishing the game with seven blocks and eight points, including three alley-oop slams, the last one coming on a pass from Beverly in the final minutes of the game.
The Titans scored seven straight points to bring the lead down to 14, but free throws by Bryce and yet another 3-pointer from Beverly extended the lead back to 19 points.
Both teams would hit a couple of free throws in the final minute to end the game with an 84-65 win in favor of NC State.
NC State will be back in action Wednesday at PNC Arena for a nonconference matchup against Florida International. Tipoff is scheduled for 9 p.m.