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Mar 20, 2024 6:18 am

After stunning ACC run, NC State set for NCAA test vs. Texas Tech

wolfpack, burns

PITTSBURGH — In a conference championship week chock full of “bid thieves,” North Carolina State was perhaps the biggest surprise of them all.

NC State entered the ACC tournament as the No. 10 seed and promptly beat five teams in five days, becoming the first double-digit seed to win the league title. The unexpected automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament got the Wolfpack the No. 11 seed in the South Region, where they will open against No. 6 Texas Tech on Thursday.

Even more impressive was the path NC State (22-14) traveled through the ACC tournament. After wins over Louisville and Syracuse, the Wolfpack took down rivals Duke, Virginia and North Carolina. That ought to have the Wolfpack feeling confident they can beat anyone in their way.

“Every program we played, and somebody can fact-check me, I think we beat five teams that have all won a national championship within the 2000s,” NC State coach Kevin Keatts said. “That says a lot, and they’re historical programs.”

DJ Horne scored 29 points in NC State’s 84-76 win over North Carolina in the title game. He leads NC State with an average of 16.9 points per game, while big man DJ Burns Jr. chips in 12.4 points and 4.0 rebounds per contest.

KenPom.com ranks NC State the 15th-most experienced team based on minutes played, though Burns and Casey Morsell are the only regular contributors who stayed from last year’s team that lost in the NCAA round of 64 to Creighton.

“We faced every type of adversity you could think of,” Morsell told On3. “Whether it be injuries, different things. Everyone pulled it together, we stayed connected and we kept believing. We thought of each game as its own championship, and we’re going to keep that same mindset heading into March Madness.”

Texas Tech (23-10) is back in the NCAA Tournament under first-year coach Grant McCasland after recent runs of success under previous coaches Chris Beard and Mark Adams.

The Red Raiders rolled to a nine-game winning streak spanning December and January, and they had a four-game streak going before losing 82-59 to top-ranked Houston in the Big 12 semifinals. But they would like to be healthier than they are entering the NCAA Tournament.

Darrion Williams, Texas Tech’s third-leading scorer (11.4 points per game) and top rebounder (7.5 per game), hurt an ankle during the first round of the Big 12 tournament against BYU. He didn’t play against the Cougars. Warren Washington (9.9 points, 7.4 rebounds per contest) has missed six straight games and eight of nine with a foot injury.

“Darrion’s improved over the past couple of days, and Warren has started to practice,” McCasland said. “And I can tell you this, our anticipation is that we would have (Washington) as close to full speed as we can with practices under his belt before we play him in a game.”

Not having the 7-foot, 230-pound Washington under the rim would make it tougher for Texas Tech to cope with NC State’s Burns (6-9, 275 pounds). Burns shot 8-for-11 against Virginia and 9-for-12 against North Carolina, operating almost exclusively inside the arc.

Texas Tech guard Pop Isaacs, who leads the team with 15.9 points per game, said connectedness has been the key for the Red Raiders after missing the tournament last year.

“Our togetherness with everybody on this team has been great,” Isaacs told the school’s athletics website. “That’s been the biggest thing for me this season. … Everyone loves each other and pushes each other.”

–Adam Zielonka, Field Level Media

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