Markell Johnson couldn’t make a shot. Braxton Beverly couldn’t miss.
It was that kind of day and game for N.C. State on Sunday as the Wolfpack, badly disappointed by its loss to Georgia Tech in the opener, did a lot of good things in beating Detroit Mercy 84-65 at PNC Arena.
Beverly didn’t hesitate on his first shot, swishing a 3-pointer from the key. Shooters know. It felt good leaving his hand. The rim looked bigger after that.
“It feels good, seeing the first one go in for sure,” Beverly said. “I try not to think about it, just know if I see another good look I’m going to shoot it. That’s how they encourage me, my teammates and my coaches. That’s what I try to do.”
Beverly kept getting good looks, kept shooting it. His six 3-point baskets, on eight attempts, were a career high and his 23 points topped his previous high of 21.
That came as a little bit of surprise to NCSU coach Kevin Keatts.
“When I was told that I was like, ‘That’s his career high?’ because it seems like the kid has been here for like 40 years,” Keatts said. “I thought he did a tremendous job getting us going.
“It was good to have Markell back on the floor even though he didn’t score. 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.”
And good to have him help chase after Detroit Mercy guard Antoine Davis. The 6-1 sophomore has a quick trigger on his shot and is a pure scorer, averaging 26 points a game last year and finishing the season with 132 made 3-pointers.
Johnson was used against Davis, quickness vs quickness. Beverly matched up with him. Devon Daniels, Jericole Hellems and C.J. Bryce had their turns as Davis bounced around screens, mixing jumpers with drives, and used his ever-quick release to get up shots from all angles.
Davis had 28 points. But the Pack made him work for it, Davis closing 11 of 23 from the field and missing eight of 10 from 3-point range.
“A player of his caliber you can’t really take away his stuff,” Beverly said. “You’ve got to make it tough. What we tried to focus on was make every shot tough, contest every shot, make it tough for him to get the ball and try to wear him down.
“With somebody who’s able to score like that, you can’t just say, ‘OK, we’re going to take this away from him.’ It’s too hard and he’s got too much (talent). The way we switched, everybody on our team got a taste of guarding him, and that will help us in the long run.”
And Johnson will score. The Pack could have used him Tuesday in the opener against Georgia Tech, but a sore ankle kept him on the sideline while the Pack lost 82-81 in overtime.
Johnson said missing time in practice resulted in some game rust that affected his shooting Sunday. His only points came on a 3-pointer in the second half, but he moved the ball well against the Titans’ point zone and had six of the Pack’s 11 assists in the first half as N.C. State took a 43-30 lead over a team playing its opener.
“I always start off the game like that, trying to get my teammates involved, get my teammates going,” Johnson said. “Brax was going today, so I tried to get the ball to Brax.”
Beverly was 4-for-13 from the field in scoring 11 points against Georgia Tech. But he knocked down three of four in each half from the 3-point line Sunday and all made five free throws. Call it a tidy 23 points.
Bryce had 19 points and Daniels 14 as N.C. State shot 48.4 percent from the field, with 20 assists on 29 made baskets.
There were time last season when the Wolfpack appeared befuddled by a zone, with too little ball movements and players too stationary. It was better Sunday.
“That’s one big thing we tried to learn from last year,” Beverly said. “We had a couple of games last year we didn’t do too well against the zone, or not as well as we should’ve and could’ve. But we learned from it.”
And from the Georgia Tech loss. Keatts said he did not like the Pack’s transition defense or transition offense against the Yellow Jackets but that both were improved Sunday.
Again, consider the competition. Detroit Mercy, from the Horizon League, was 11-20 last season, with Davis as a freshman.
Still, as Keatts put it, the first win of a new season, with a new group, is exciting. It was a start.
“A lot of good things,” Keatts said. “We’ve got to build on it.”