NC State's Braxton Beverly makes most of his opportunity in win over No. 2 Arizona
Freshman overcomes plenty before he even puts on a jersey and then sparks signature win for Wolfpack
PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas -- Braxton Beverly couldn't move.
The North Carolina State freshman guard, who just weeks ago didn't know whether he would play a single collegiate game this season, stood in the carpeted hallway next to the ballroom where his team had just upset Arizona, the No. 2 team in the nation, 90-84. He was trapped: To his right was a giant orange riding lawn mower from the sponsor of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, Bad Boy Mowers. To his left and in front of him were a mob of North Carolina State fans who had made the trip to the Bahamas to bear witness to a new beginning in Wolfpack hoops under first-year coach Kevin Keatts. Beverly had just scored 20 points and made three of his five 3-point attempts as N.C. State pressed and trapped and scratched and clawed its way to the most surprising upset in this young college basketball season, over a team plenty picked to win the national title. Fans shouted his name. They flashed the Wolfpack hand signal. They stopped Beverly for photographs.
It took the 20-year-old five full minutes to walk the 20 or so feet from the press conference area to the team's locker room.
And he loved every second of it.
"I've watched this tournament the last two or three years straight, and I've always thought, 'Man, I'd love to be down there,' " Beverly told CBSSports.com after he escaped the mob and sneaked into a quiet nook. "It's something I'm definitely going to remember for the rest of my life. It's amazing."
Amazing because, until three hours before NC State's third game of the season, Beverly was going to be a member of this year's team in name only.
You've probably already heard the story of how the NCAA turned the beginning of Beverly's freshman season in college into a debacle that never should have happened in the first place. Beverly, who is from Hazard, Kentucky, and played a post-graduate season at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, had committed to play at Ohio State for then-head coach Thad Matta. He had already moved onto campus and was taking summer classes when Matta was shockingly fired in June. When a new coach, Chris Holtmann, was hired, Beverly no longer felt as excited about playing for the school, and he asked for and received his release. It felt like an obvious case of fairness: Of course Beverly would be allowed to transfer and play for another school immediately. The delayed firing of Matta was not Braxton's doing. He was a model student-athlete, enrolling early to get a head start on college life and classes.
But the NCAA bungled it, denying Beverly's transfer waiver request, and then denying his appeal. It was only after his family threatened a lawsuit (and after countless columnists ripped the NCAA's handling of the issue) that Beverly was belatedly allowed to play.
Beverly quite literally wears his faith on his sleeve -- his left arm is adorned with a giant tattoo of Jesus carrying the cross to Golgotha -- and there were plenty of nights of prayer about this. The lowest and most trying point was the second time the NCAA denied his appeal, he said.
"When I got the news, oh man, it hit me where it hurts," Beverly said. "There were tough times. It's hard to battle through that. I put all my faith in God. He brought me here for a reason, and He took me through that for a reason. I didn't try to let it get me too down. But it was tough at times."
On Wednesday night in this intimate ballroom, NC State faced an Arizona team that featured future NBA players DeAndre Ayton and Allonzo Trier. The Wildcats have legitimate national title hopes, so you could see why Keatts laid it all on the line to get Beverly eligible.
Point guard Lavar Batts didn't play, and Markell Johnson was limited with leg cramps, so Beverly ended up playing 27 minutes for a Wolfpack squad that had two starters foul out. Beverly was perfectly in tune with this new NC State way: Pressing and trapping; hustling and flowing.
"Kevin Keatts, for his fifth game as the coach at NC State, they looked liked a group who had been together a lot longer," Arizona coach Sean Miller said afterward. "NC State did not lack confidence. Right from the get-go they had an attacking mentality."
Also of note: Arizona's struggles on defense. Arizona scored 84 points. In the eight-year Miller era, only once has Arizona scored 84 points or more and lost in a non-overtime game.
But this game was all about NC State. Beverly given his rightful shot at playing college basketball this year, and Keatts giving NC State fans an exciting and inspired style of basketball. Keatts called it a "program win," the type of win that this new regime could hang its hat on.
And he knew going in that Beverly was going to be a big part of it. Keatts took Beverly aside after practice the day before. The coach and the player had a shooting game from every spot on the court. "I won," Beverly laughed. "I felt like this would be his night," Keatts said.
Afterward, Beverly stood in an industrial hallway, away from the crowd. He was beaming. When it looked like the NCAA was taking his freshman season away from him, he tried to keep it in perspective. "Even if I didn't get eligible, I wasn't going to let it affect who I am, or let it affect my play on the practice court working to get better," he said. "So when I got the opportunity I'd be ready."
On Wednesday night he got the opportunity, against one of the most talented teams in the country. And you better believe he was ready.
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