NC State bursts someone's bubble with first ACC title since 1987

Mar 16, 2024; Washington, D.C., USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack forward Mohamed Diarra (23) reacts against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the first half at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

NC State had one more upset in them against UNC. (Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports)

NC State walked into the ACC tournament with four straight losses and walked out with five straight wins.

The Wolfpack upset top seed North Carolina, 84-76, in the final of the ACC men’s basketball tournament on Saturday, locking up one of the country’s most unlikely NCAA tournament slots one day before Selection Sunday. Before UNC, NC State defeated Louisville, Syracuse, Duke and Virginia in consecutive nights.

It is NC State’s first conference tournament title since 1987 and the first time a team has won a conference tournament with five wins in five nights since Kemba Walker’s 2011 run at UConn. Not bad for a team that was down by double digits to Louisville at one point.

DJ Horne led the team with 29 points on 6-of-15 shooting with four rebounds and zero turnovers.

It was an especially good night for NC State head coach Kevin Keatts, who will receive an automatic two-year extension thanks to the title after entering March on the hot seat.

The result could have significance beyond the Wolfpack stealing a bid, as UNC, ranked fourth in the country, entered the game with the ability to lock up a 1 seed for March Madness. They fell short Saturday, but could still have an argument thanks to earlier conference tournament losses by No. 5 Tennessee and No. 6 Arizona. No. 1 Houston and No. 3 Purdue lost Saturday as well, but remain in a solid position for a top seed.

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The fight for the final 1 seed gets a little more interesting after Arizona, as No. 7 Iowa State demolished Houston to make a case for a second Big 12 1 seed. All of those teams will learn their fate at 6 p.m. on Selection Sunday.

NC State went up early vs. UNC and battled from there

It was a dream start for NC State, which jumped to an 11-2 lead in the opening minutes and maintained a significant lead for the next 10 minutes.

UNC eventually woke up and took back the lead late in the first half, entering halftime with a 40-39 lead. The Tar Heels’ biggest problem was NC State big man DJ Burns Jr., who was scoring in bunches early and, more importantly, pushing UNC’s Armando Bacot into foul trouble.

Of course, perhaps his biggest play was an accident, as he made the first 3-pointer of his five-year career after getting the ball with a second left on the shot clock:

NC State once again took an early lead in the second half, but it didn’t give this one up. The Wolfpack responded well to every punch from UNC and built a 10-point lead with four minutes left, which was all they needed to finish a run that will be remembered no matter how March Madness goes.

UNC was ultimately done in by a 8-of-30 night from the 3-point line. The Tar Heels didn’t lack for comeback opportunities, but missed a number of wide-open looks down the stretch.

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