For the first time since I was a student there in 1987, N.C. State won the ACC Championship with an 84-76 win over No. 1 North Carolina Saturday night. The win guarantees State a spot in the NCAA Tournament and triggers a two-year extension for coach Kevin Keatts, who came into the tournament on the hot seat, with an open question if he would be back for his eighth season in Raleigh.

My fear coming into this battle against their rival who beat them two times in the regular season was that playing their fifth game in as many days that the Pack would fall behind early and not have anything in the tank for a comeback. Instead, State jumped out to a 10-point lead in the first half and played the vast majority of the game with the score in their favor.

Carolina hit a 3-point basket as time expired to take a one-point lead into halftime. But DJ Burns hit four baskets and DJ Horne added four free throws to put State up, 49-46, and they held the lead for the rest of the game.

In addition to battling exhaustion, State played with an injured Jayden Taylor, who was nursing an ankle injury and was a non-factor in the game. Casey Morsell had to leave the game with an injured groin and was in and out when he returned. And Horne had to leave with four fouls, sat out for several minutes and eventually fouled out.

And, somehow, they won.

State won because Horne matched R.J. Davis point for point throughout the game. And outside of Davis, UNC just didn’t have consistent offensive production, especially from long distance. The Tar Heels shot just 26.7% from behind the arc, missing 22 shots.

And the Pack, who earlier in this space were dubbed, “The gang that couldn’t shoot straight,” hit 54.9% from the floor, 42.9% from behind the arc and 75.9% from the line, scoring 22 points from the charity stripe.

Horne led the way with 29 points, Burns – who was an absolute beast in the paint – added 20 and Mo Diarra had 11 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 assists.

This tournament run, with five wins in five days, was just incredible. Along the way, State beat No. 2 Duke, No. 3 Virginia and No. 1 UNC. It’s the first time in ACC history that a team won five games in the tournament and only the second time in all of college basketball it happened. The first was when Kemba Walker led Connecticut to five wins in 2011. And UConn went on to win the NCAA Tournament that year, too.

State will find out Sunday their seed in the NCAAs and which region they’ll be assigned. There are sub-regional sites in Charlotte, Memphis and Pittsburgh, as well as Brooklyn. Hopefully, the Pack will be placed in one of those and not made to fly across the country.

But after the resilience they showed in the ACC Tournament, it’s likely nothing will faze this group. We can wonder where this effort and this coaching were during the regular season. But it’s truly a case of better late than never.

Two of my sports teams – State and the Mets – enjoyed great success in the 1980s. Hopefully this is a harbinger of great things to come for my baseball team, too.

Oh, let’s not forget – Go to Hell Carolina.

5 comments on “Wolfpack takes down Tar Heels to capture their 11th ACC Championship

  • John Fox

    Maybe it would be good if NC State wins the NCAA tournament. My brother graduated from Syracuse and he informs me Syracuse swept NC State in the regular season. So if NC State does win it all, Syracuse fans can say their team beat the best team 2/3 of the time this season.

    • Brian Joura

      FWIW, the first game against SYR was probably the worst game State played all year. The 2nd game SYR won because they were unconscious from behind the 3-point line, with Bell making eight in a row in the first half.

      My opinion is if they play 10 times on a neutral court, State wins at least 7 of them.

      State lost twice in the regular season to UNC and Pitt, too, so they can sing that same song should State win it all…

  • AgingBull

    Solely because of your post, Brian, and in solidarity, I picked NC State to make it to the Final Four in my bracket. Go Wolfpack!

    • AgingBull

      Well, maybe not solely because of your post. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for NC State. My family moved from NY to Denver when I was about 9. No MLB, the Broncos were terrible, and the Denver Rockets of the ABA were the best game in town. They drafted the electrifying David Thompson from NC State and then his caddy, Monte Towe. I don’t know if they invented the alley-oop, but they made it famous. Thompson, along with Dr. J., paved the way for the high-flying game we have today.

      • Brian Joura

        I didn’t follow college basketball in the 70s but I knew David Thompson from his time with the Nuggets. Unfortunately, he got caught up with cocaine and didn’t have the pro career that he might have if he stayed sober. He’s a terrific ambassador for NC State here in the 21st Century and he’s at a bunch of games. They unveiled a statue of him this year outside Reynolds Coliseum, with a 44-inch base to commemorate his vertical leap.

        Towe used to play pickup basketball at State while I was there in the 80s. I never played a game with him but saw him many times.

Leave a Reply

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

The maximum upload file size: 100 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video, document, spreadsheet, interactive, text, archive, code, other. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop file here