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N.C. State makes first Final Four since 1983 by denying rival Duke

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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 certain of that in a 76-64 win over fourth-seeded Duke on Sunday night in the NCAA tournament’s South Region final at American Airlines Center.

Behind another sublime performance by forward DJ Burns Jr., N.C. State advanced to the Final Four for the fourth time in program history and for the first time since it won the national championship in 1983 with one of the most memorable NCAA tournament runs.

This season’s Wolfpack (26-14) is piecing together a similar story. N.C. State has the most losses of any team ever to reach the national semifinals but will enter the season’s final weekend as a winner of nine in a row thanks in large part to Burns, the South Region’s most outstanding player. On Sunday, he had a season-high 29 points on 13-for-19 shooting, and N.C. 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 have really worked hard. The fans deserve it. We’ve done a really good job. When I say we — I always say we. I mean, these young men in the locker room, through all the adversity that we have went through, ups and downs of winning games and losing games, they never lost their faith and stayed together.”

On Saturday in Glendale, Ariz., N.C. State will face top-seeded Purdue, which dispatched No. 2 seed 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 (Paul VI) chipped in 13 points and three assists.

The outcome was all but a formality after the Wolfpack claimed a 58-44 lead with less than five minutes to play on a Burns layup. Teammate DJ Horne chipped in 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 definitely big for our program,” Horne said hours after the N.C. State women secured their own berth in the Final Four. “Seeing the girls have success definitely motivates us. I would say we worry about our team right now and are just trying to make the best of what we got going.”

N.C. State fans got on their feet and offered chants of “Wolfpack! Wolfpack! Wolfpack!” shortly after a 12-2 burst opened a 48-40 lead with a little over eight minutes left. Burns had a pair of close-in turnaround shots, and Horne added a jumper from steps inside the three-point arc.

During N.C. State’s surge, Duke leading scorer and rebounder Kyle Filipowski was assessed his fourth foul. The sophomore fouled out with 4:52 to play; he finished with 11 points on 3-for-12 shooting.

Five quick points by Horne had given the Wolfpack the lead at 36-35 seven minutes into the second half. It was the first advantage for North Carolina State 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 thankful for them for everything they’ve done for our program and for Duke.”

A defensive showdown during the first half ended with Duke leading 27-21 in the first NCAA tournament meeting between ACC rivals from the North Carolina Triangle. It also brought together programs that have combined for seven national championships and have deep-rooted history on Tobacco Road.

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

A seventh trip to the Elite Eight and a first since 1986 for the Wolfpack appeared a pipe dream after it dropped its final four games of the regular season. But N.C. State reeled off five wins in as many days to win the ACC tournament title in Washington; that included a 74-69 victory over the Blue Devils in the quarterfinals.

The rivalry’s latest installment opened with Scheyer electing to guard Burns with a single defender in the first half. The strategy, which the Blue Devils did not deviate from, allowed Duke to protect the three-point line more vigorously, preventing Burns from passing to an open teammate if doubled in the paint.

But the graduate transfer, who is listed at 6-foot-9 and 275 pounds, was able to back down Filipowski during early 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 getting to the rim for layups while the Wolfpack missed its first seven such attempts.

The Blue Devils’ lead reached 27-18 on a pair of free throws by McCain and Sean Stewart’s layup off a lob pass from Roach, but N.C. State found an answer in the second half even after a technical foul was charged to the Wolfpack bench when Keatts vehemently disagreed with a call. That sequence served as motivation for N.C. State as it grew its lead to double digits.

“I think the biggest thing was sticking together,” said O’Connell, who provided a dose of March magic with a buzzer-beating 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 stick together through the tough times and even the great times is going to be huge.”

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