Coach Keatts: fast-paced-style, Braxton Beverly and free chicken
In the years to come, Kevin Keatts may not remember a lot about his first game as coach at N.C. State.
He will remember the Wolfpack won it at PNC Arena, which is the most important thing.
Keatts’ first season with the Pack began with a 102-67 victory Friday over VMI, which was outmatched physically but hard-working. The Pac never trailed, building a big early lead.
“I just wanted us to come out and play hard,and I think they did,” Keatts said. “We really shared the basketball. We got out in transition and got off to a really good start.”
Keatts, well attired in gray suit and red tie for his first game, was loud and active at the bench, constantly in motion when the Pack was working defensively. He was a little more reserved when the Wolfpack had the ball, pumping a fist when there was a nice hustle play or drive to the basket.
The Pack played with senior Lennard Freeman for the first time since the 2015-16 season and without senior Abdul-Malik Abu, who Keatts said would sit out at least the first two games as he recovers from a knee injury. Freeman had an early basket as the aggressive motored to leads of 11-2 and then 23-4 after a 12-0 run.
The Pack had a little of the old and little of the new. Torin Dorn (16 points) and Markell Johnson (14 points, 9 assists) were in the starting lineup with Freeman, but Al Freeman, Sam Hunt and Lavar Batts all made their Wolfpack debuts.
Al Freeman’s 17 points led seven players in double figures. Lennard Freeman was beaming after his career-high 15.
“We had to make a statement,” Lennard Freeman said. “We had to start out strong. Coach Keatts is a great coach. Just the way he coaches, his attitude.”
VMI, coming off a 6-24 season, trailed 35-11 before extending its defense and using more zone to throttle back the Pack a bit. N.C. State hit an offensive lull, but junior Shaun Kirk livened up the crowd — and began another spurt — with high-rise dunk.
By halftime, the Pack’s lead was 56-34 as the N.C. State guards looked to run the floor and attack the basket. The Pack forced 13 turnovers in the half that it converted into 18 points, and continued to pressure in the second half.
It already had been a busy week for the Keatts and the Pack off the court.
The Pack had four signees in the fall signing period, a good start for Keatts and his staff. Wolfpack freshman guard Braxton Beverly said he has hired an attorney and still is trying to be named eligible by the NCAA for this season — there was a “Free Braxton” sign visible behind the score’s table.