Sports News

NC State’s wild ride reaches Final Four after win over rival Duke

DALLAS — A postseason filled with storybook moments for the North Carolina State men’s basketball team will have at least one more chapter. The 11th-seeded Wolfpack made sure of that in a 76-64 victory over fourth-seeded Duke on Sunday night in the South Region final of the NCAA Tournament at the American Airlines Center.

Behind another sublime performance from forward DJ Burns Jr., NC State advanced to the Final Four for the fourth time in program history and first time since winning the national championship in 1983 with one of the most memorable NCAA tournaments.

This season’s Wolfpack (26-14) is reenacting a similar story. NC State had its most losses ever to reach the national semifinals, but will enter the final weekend of the season as winners of nine straight games thanks in large part to Burns, the the most remarkable in the Southern region. On Sunday, he scored a game-high 29 points on 13-of-19 shooting, and NC State shot 73.1 percent in the second half to pull away.

“It means a lot,” coach Kevin Keatts said. “Our school deserves it. Our players really worked hard. The fans deserve it. We did a very good job. When I say we, I always say us. I mean, those young men in the locker room, despite all the adversity that we went through, the ups and downs of winning games and losing games, they never lost faith and stayed together.

On Saturday in Glendale, Ariz., NC State will face top-seeded Purdue, which dispatched second-seeded Tennessee to win the Midwest Region earlier Sunday.

Freshman guard Jared McCain led the Blue Devils (27-9), who shot 32.2 percent, with 32 points, but went 8 for 20 from the field. Senior point guard Jeremy Roach had 13 points and three assists.

The result was a formality after the Wolfpack took a 58-44 lead with less than five minutes left on a Burns layup. Teammate DJ Horne had 20 points, four rebounds and three assists, and point guard Michael O’Connell (six points) had 11 rebounds and six assists, both team highs.

“It’s really important for our program,” Horne said hours after the NC State women secured their own spot in the Final Four. “Seeing the girls succeed definitely motivates us. I would say we’re worried about our team right now and we’re just trying to make the most of what we’ve done.

NC State fans stood and chanted “Wolfpack!” Wolf Pack! Pack of wolves! ” shortly after, a 12-2 explosion opened a 48-40 lead with just over eight minutes to play. Burns hit two close shots and Horne added a jumper from the steps at inside the three-point arc.

During NC State’s surge, Duke’s leading scorer and rebounder, Kyle Filipowski, picked up his fourth foul. The sophomore fouled out with 4:52 left; he finished with 11 points on 3-of-12 shooting.

Five quick points from Horne had given the Wolfpack the lead at 36-35 seven minutes into the second half. It was North Carolina State’s first advantage since 8-7.

“I know these guys are hurting and disappointed that we couldn’t get it, that we couldn’t go to the Final Four and go to Phoenix,” Duke coach Jon Scheyer said. “…It’s disappointing. I feel for these guys, but I’m grateful for everything they’ve done for our program and for Duke.

A first-half defensive standoff ended with Duke leading 27-21 in the first NCAA Tournament meeting between the North Carolina Triangle’s ACC rivals. He also assembled programs that have combined for seven national championships and have a deep-rooted history on Tobacco Road.

The Blue Devils were making their 24th appearance in a regional final, third all-time but first under Scheyer, captain of the Blue Devils’ 2010 national championship team who took over in 2022 from Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski.

A seventh trip to the Elite Eight and first since 1986 for the Wolfpack seemed like a pipe dream after losing its final four games of the regular season. But NC State reeled off five wins in as many days to capture the ACC tournament title in Washington; this included a 74-69 victory over the Blue Devils in the quarterfinals.

The latest episode of the rivalry opened with Scheyer choosing to keep Burns with just one defender in the first half. The strategy, from which the Blue Devils did not deviate, allowed Duke to more vigorously protect the three-point line, preventing Burns from passing to an open teammate if he was double-teamed in the paint.

But the graduate transfer, who stands 6-foot-9, 275 pounds, was able to keep Filipowski back on the first few possessions for short jumpers until he was whistled for his second foul midway through the half. When Burns went to the bench for an extended break, Duke began to drive to the rim for layups while the Wolfpack missed its first seven such attempts.

The Blue Devils’ lead grew to 27-18 on a pair of McCain free throws and Sean Stewart’s layup off a lobbed pass from Roach, but NC State found an answer in the second half even after a foul technical was blamed on the Wolfpack bench when Keatts adamantly disagreed with that call. That streak served as motivation for NC State as it increased its lead to double digits.

“I think the most important thing was to stay together,” said O’Connell, who provided a dose of March magic with a three-pointer that forced overtime in the ACC semifinals against Virginia. “Obviously things aren’t always going to go well – or things are going to go wrong – but for us to stay together through the tough times and even through the big times will be huge.”

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button