N.C. State and its 2 DJs headed to 1st Final Four since 1983 after 76-64 win over Duke

DALLAS — Bruising big man DJ Burns Jr. plays with plenty of joy, skipping on and off the floor and interacting with North Carolina State fans that he often works into a frenzy with slick moves and a soft-touch shot.

“I was raised in a happy environment,” Burns said. “I try to take that with me everywhere I go.”

Now he can take that to the desert for the Wolfpack’s first Final Four in four decades.

The 6-foot-9, 275-pound Burns scored a season-high 29 points on 13-of-19 shooting, DJ Horne had 20 and 11th-seeded N.C. State beat Atlantic Coast Conference rival Duke 76-64 in the South Region final Sunday.

N.C. State is back on basketball’s biggest stage for the first time since the late Jim Valvano was sprinting around the court looking for someone to hug after winning the 1983 national title with an upset over Houston and Phi Slama Jama.

“These guys are so special,” seventh-year coach Kevin Keatts said. “Nine elimination games or you go home.”

These Wolfpack (26-14) head to Glendale, Arizona, with the most losses ever for a Final Four team, but on a winning streak that began after losing their last four regular-season games, and seven of nine. They had to win five games against past national champions in five days in the ACC Tournament, including a win over Duke in the quarterfinal round, just to get into the 68-team NCAA Tournament field.

Now they will play 7-foot-4 All-American Zach Edey and Purdue in the first national semifinal game, before defending champion UConn takes on Alabama.

“I’ll say like I’ve been saying the whole tournament. When I stop having fun with basketball, I’ll stop playing,” said Burns, who was voted the South Region’s most outstanding player. “There’s just been a total switch in our commitment. Nobody’s being late to things. Nobody’s being a problem on the court. Everybody’s come together.”

Fourth-seeded Duke (27-9), which ousted top seed Houston in the Sweet 16 two nights earlier, missed out on its second Final Four in three seasons after leading by six at halftime and maintaining that margin with 16 1/2 minutes left.

North Carolina State’s Michael O’Connell (12) reacts after a basket by DJ Burns Jr. (30) against Duke during the second half of an Elite Eight college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament in Dallas, Sunday, March 31, 2024. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

But soon after Keatts was called for a technical foul with 8 minutes left, his team was well on its way to becoming the seventh double-digit seed to make the Final Four since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

Jared McCain made both free throws for the technical that Keatts got after officials ruled a missed shot by Duke’s Kyle Filipowski that went over the backboard and off the shot clock went off one of his players. Replays showed that while maybe there should have been a foul since Burns made contact with the 7-foot Filipowski’s arm, the Wolfpack forward’s wasn’t even close to the ball.

A minute later, Ben Middlebrooks had a steal that led to a fast-break 3-pointer by Michael O’Connell. There was a foul called while the ball was in the air, so the Wolfpack got the trey, kept possession and Burns made another nifty basket for a 53-42 lead.

O’Connell had six points, also finishing with 11 rebounds and six assists.

McCain led Duke with 32 points, the freshman guard hitting 8 of 20 shots and making all 11 of his free throws. Jeremy Roach had 13 points while sophomore center Filipowski had 11 points and nine rebounds before fouling out with 4:52 left and the Blue Devils already down eight.

“Just give credit to State. They’re on a hell of a run right now,” Roach said. “We weren’t us today.”

None of the double-digit seeds have even made it to the national championship game, but Wolfpack fans chanted “Why not us, why not us?” before their team cut down the nets in Big D — about 1,200 miles from Tobacco Road where the N.C. State and Duke campuses are only about a half-hour drive from each other.

During the game’s first media timeout, they even got to watch on the big video boards in the arena as the N.C. State women dribbled out the final 26 seconds of their regional final victory over Texas to also advance to the Final Four.

Burns, who had only four points in the regional semifinal against Marquette, hit short jumpers on the Wolfpack’s first two shots of the game. But those were their only consecutive makes before halftime while shooting 26.5% (9 of 34) and trailing 27-21.

They certainly turned that around with a 55-point second half in which they made 19 of 26 shots (73.1%). Burns, who had eight points in the game’s first nine minutes before his second foul, went 9 of 11 after halftime.

Duke made only 19 field goals the entire game, shooting a season-worst 32.2% on its 59 attempts. The Blue Devils became the sixth consecutive opponent held under 40% shooting by N.C. State.

“We never had any rhythm on offense,” second-year Duke coach Jon Scheyer said. “They started to score more and our offense, it was probably the most disjointed game that we’ve played all year.”


Duke had held its first three March Madness opponents to fewer than 60 points. The only other times the Blue Devils had three-game streaks like that in tourney were in 2010 and 2015 — their last two national championships. Scheyer was part of both of those, first as a player and then an assistant coach under Mike Krzyzewski.


Joining Burns on the all-region team were Horne, Filipowski, McCain and Marquette’s Tyler Kolek.


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