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Mar 30, 2024 9:01 pm

Duke looks to end league rival NC State’s surprising run

dj burns

Atlantic Coast Conference foes Duke and North Carolina State will play Sunday for the third time this month, and the plight of one of the squads is entirely different from just four weeks ago.

The once underachieving Wolfpack (25-14) are now a team on a mission as they enter the showdown with the fourth-seeded Blue Devils (27-8) in Dallas, with the winner of the South Region title contest earning a spot in the Final Four.

No. 11 seed NC State is looking for its ninth consecutive victory after reaching the Elite Eight for the first time since 1986 with Friday’s 67-58 win over second-seeded Marquette.

The Wolfpack lost their last four regular-season games and 10 of 14 in a season seemingly going nowhere. One of the setbacks was a 79-64 home loss against Duke on March 4.

Then the ACC tournament began and NC State’s fortunes changed. The Wolfpack won five games in five days to win the tourney and claim an NCAA Tournament bid. One of the victories was a 74-69 win over Duke on March 14 in the ACC quarterfinals.

And as naysayers continue to hover over the squad, NC State coach Kevin Keatts is happy to point out what makes the eight-game run a truly impressive streak.

“The crazy thing about it is every game that we have won was an elimination game,” Keatts said Saturday. “If we lose any of those games in the ACC, we don’t go to the NCAA Tournament. And then your two games to get to the Sweet 16, you lose them, you go home.”

Everything about the Wolfpack is better. Not just the level of play, but the chemistry and the ability to navigate pressure-packed situations.

“I think another big key for us is that we’re not beating ourselves,” Wolfpack guard Casey Morsell said. “We’re not our own worst enemy. We’re clicking, but the defense is one of our biggest priorities. We’re kind of holding teams to one shot, one and done, and just doing different things so that it makes it tough for the opponent.”

The Blue Devils, who reached the Elite Eight with a 54-51 win over No. 1 seed Houston on Friday, saw both sides.

In the first meeting, Duke scored 21 points off turnovers and received 21 points from Jeremy Roach. DJ Burns Jr. scored 27 points for NC State but nobody else had more than 10.

Ten days later, the Wolfpack held the Blue Devils to 5-of-20 shooting from 3-point range. Kyle Filipowski excelled with 28 points and 14 rebounds for Duke while five NC State players scored in double figures, led by DJ Horne’s 18 points.

“They continue to get better and better,” Blue Devils coach Jon Scheyer said Saturday. “I think you can see their confidence and their togetherness has continued to grow.

“They’re a really good defensive team. They’ve become very disruptive, but I think even more so in the halfcourt creating turnovers. They’ve been a better rebounding team.”

Roach believes the key for Duke is not worrying about NC State’s transformation. After all, the Blue Devils are allowing an average of just 51 points per game during March Madness.

“I think just focusing on ourselves is the biggest thing going into this game,” Roach said. “NC State is a great opponent. They’re playing their best basketball right now. They won eight in a row. They’re here for a reason, so we just have to go out there and compete.”

Roach is averaging 14.3 points in the NCAA Tournament as he continues to play with a dislocated left pinkie finger. Jared McCain leads Duke with a 17.3 scoring average during the tournament.

For NC State, Mohamed Diarra has notched three straight double-doubles and is averaging 13 points and 13.3 rebounds in the three tournament wins. Horne is averaging 15.3 points and Burns is scoring 14.7 per game in the tournament.

–Field Level Media

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