NASSAU — Tennessee’s upset over No. 18 Purdue was thought to be the shocker of the day in the Battle 4 Atlantis. That was until No. 2 Arizona and North Carolina State took the floor in the night session.
The Wolfpack pulled off the monster upset, 92 to 82, giving Kevin Keatts his first major win as head coach of the ACC school. NC State was led by Baylor transfer Al Freeman (24 points on 7-of-18 shooting), freshman Braxton Beverly (20 points off the bench) and Omer Yurtseven (11 points and nine rebounds).
The Wolfpack played hard from the opening tip, attacking the basket without fear and playing solid defense on Allonzo Trier before the break.
After controlling most of the game, NC State momentarily coughed up the lead in the second, making it look like reality was going to set in with the Arizona faithful overwhelming the arena.
But the Wolfpack answered back thanks to a strong offensive showing and physicality in the painted area.
North Carolina State advances to the winner’s bracket and will play either SMU or Northern Iowa Thursday afternoon. Meanwhile, Arizona heads to the loser’s bracket and will face off against SMU or Northern Iowa Thursday night.
- What a win for Kevin Keatts. In his fifth game as head coach of North Carolina State, Keatts led his team to an upset over one the best teams in the nation. The Wolfpack don’t have the talent of last year, but Freeman looks like a gem as a graduate transfer and Markell Johnson and Omer Yurtseven are much improved after a full offseason in Raleigh. Imagine if Keatts was the main man last year with Dennis Smith Jr. in red and white.
- Speaking of Freeman, he looked like a completely different player than he was last year at Baylor. In a more featured offensive role, Freeman was able to attack the basket and use his strength and ability to finish at the rim to his advantage. He competes at a high level on defense and also provides the Wolfpack with a veteran leader who has played in big games before.
- DeAndre Ayton is flat out ridiculous. Just by watching the first 20 minutes of this game, you could see the reason why Ayton is a projected top-three pick. A 7’1″ player should not have the footwork and mobility that he possesses. The Bahamas native can score from all over the floor and showed his great touch from the mid-range and the perimeter.
- One of the reasons Arizona struggled in the first half was because of Trier’s slow start. Trier had a couple of turnovers in the opening minutes and couldn’t hit a shot. But in the second half, he was able to break out of his funk by attacking the rim, finishing in transition and getting to the free throw line. NC State was surprisingly able to counter Trier’s flurry of points with Freeman and Beverly.