North Carolina State defeats Duke to lock in the Final Four field

North Carolina State's DJ Burns Jr., right, works the floor against Duke's Mark Mitchell.
North Carolina State’s DJ Burns Jr., right, works against Duke’s Mark Mitchell during the second half of the Wolfpack’s Elite Eight victory Sunday.
(Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

Bruising big man DJ Burns Jr. scored a season-high 29 points, DJ Horne had 20 and 11th-seeded North Carolina State reached its first Final Four in four decades, beating Atlantic Coast Conference rival Duke 76-64 in the South Region final Sunday.

N.C. State (26-14) is back in the national semifinals 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 Wolfpack head to Glendale, Arizona, next weekend with a nine-game winning streak. After losing their last four regular-season games, and seven of nine, they had to win five games 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 Zach Edey and Purdue in the first national semifinal game, before defending champion Connecticut takes on Alabama.


Coach Geno Auriemma has guided Connecticut to 11 national titles since USC last made the Elite Eight. They meet Monday for the first time in NCAA tourney.

March 31, 2024

“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 16½ minutes left.

But soon after Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts was called for a technical foul with eight minutes left, his team had a double-digit lead and 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 Filipowski’s arm, the hand of the Wolfpack’s 6-foot-9, 275-pound forward wasn’t even close to the ball.

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

UCLA says a string of close losses puts them on a more difficult NCAA tournament path. The Bruins are pushing to come back stronger next season.

March 31, 2024

O’Connell had six points, but finished with 11 rebounds and six assists.

McCain led Duke with 32 points, the freshman guard hitting eight of 20 shots and making all 11 of his free throws. Jeremy Roach had 13 points while 7-foot center Filipowski had 11 points and nine rebounds before fouling out with 4:52 left and the Blue Devils already down eight.


None of the double-digit seeds have even made it to the national championship game, but the raucous 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.