DJ Burns and NC State take down Duke, continue magical run

DJ Burns and NC State

Duke had no answer for DJ Burns. NC State’s big man punished the Blue Devils in an Elite Eight matchup on Sunday, as he helped the Wolfpack pound the Bears to reach the Final Four with a 76-64 victory. Burns scored 29 points in 29 tough minutes and had a lively performance in the second half to dominate their ACC foe. The win marks NC State’s ninth consecutive win in what has developed into a truly magical postseason run.

Duke took a 27–21 lead at the half and continued to control the game. John Scheyer’s team looked to be heading for the first Final Four of his tenure. Burns ruined those plans by taking over the final 20 minutes of the game and disrupting the Blue Devils’ plans.

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The fifth-year senior forward entered halftime with eight points on 4-of-8 shooting with two rebounds and one assist. He picked up his second foul with 9:47 remaining in the first half, limiting his minutes and aggression. They held nothing back after the break. In the second half, Burns scored 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting, was 3-of-4 from the free throw line, grabbed two rebounds and had two blocks. He was an eye-popping plus-18 in 16 minutes of the second half. He was absolutely invincible.

Duke could be forgiven for failing to stop Burns. It’s not often that college teams have to deal with a 6-foot-9, 275-pound post player with blazing speed and great body control. It’s a unique problem to solve and one that has proven difficult for the Blue Devils. In three games against them this season, Burns has averaged 22.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.3 blocks, while shooting 59.2 percent from the field.

Sunday’s win moves NC State to the Final Four for the first time since 1983 when Jim Valvano’s “Cardiac Pack” won the national title. That team won the ACC Tournament, then pulled off several major upsets to win an unexpected championship. The similarities to Kevin Keates’ current team are strikingly similar.

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On March 9, NC State was 17–14 and entered the ACC Tournament as a No. 10 seed, needing to win it to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament field. The Wolfpack recorded five wins in five days, defeating the top three seeds – Duke, Virginia and North Carolina – to capture the tournament title. They were seeded 11th in the South and never stopped winning. NC State defeated Texas Tech in the first round, topped a tough Oakland team in overtime in the second round, then defeated No. 2 seed Marquette 67-58 in the Sweet 16 and upset No. 4 seed Duke on Sunday.

Burns and his team are performing excellently at the moment. Reaching the last four by winning nine consecutive games is a big achievement. NC State has nine wins in the last 20 days, each of them essentially serving as an elimination game. Then there’s this note: The Wolfpack won a combined eight games in January and February. In March, he won nine.

Looking forward to April and the Final Four.

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