Elite Eight: State wins again

Eighth straight gets State in the Eight

North Carolina State's Casey Morsell (14) scores a gasket in front of Marquette's David Joplin (23), Stevie Mitchell (4) and Chase Ross (2) during the first half of a Sweet 16 college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament in Dallas, Friday, March 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)


March may have come in like a lamb, but it’s going out like a wolf.

The NC State Wolfpack advanced to the Elite Eight with their eighth straight postseason win. The Pack beat 2-seed Marquette, 67-58 to move one win away from the Final Four. NC State will play ACC rival Duke for a berth in the national semifinals on Sunday.

The Wolfpack’s miracle run has them in the Elite Eight for the first time since 1986. That was three years after State became the first true March Madness Cinderella, upsetting its way to the national title. This year’s postseason hot streak has brought back memories of that March magic.

State shut down Marquette’s shooting, holding the Golden Eagles to 33% for the game and just 4-of-31 from 3-point range.

“We thought that if we could defend the three-point line, obviously that would give us our best opportunity to win,” said head coach Kevin Keatts.

Marquette’s star guards, Kam Jones and Tyler Kolek were 3-of-12 and 1-of-5 from three respectively. Shooter David Joplin was 0-for-7.

There were plenty of heroes for NC State. Mohamed Diarra had another double-double, his fourth straight and fifth in the last six games, with 11 points and 15 rebounds.

“I mean, he has been so valuable,” said Keatts. “Double-doubles and playing great defense, and we’re asking so much of him.”

Center D.J. Burns Jr. was held in check with 4 points, but he dished out a career-high 7 assists.

“Obviously, they did a good job of takin him away, but he became a very efficient passer,” said Keatts.

DJ Horne had 19 points, and Casey Morsell added 15.

“Casey made a big shot. DJ Horne made big shots,” Keatts said. “We just relied on our experience and our defense.”

It wound up taking State farther than anyone expected. The Pack entered the postseason losing 7 of 9 games and on the verge of replacing Keatts as coach. Instead, the Pack won five games in five days to take the ACC title and an automatic bid to the NCAAs. They’ve won three  straight since then.

“I would say (we’re) just proving everyone wrong,” said Morsell. “Going into every game, we’re pretty much the underdogs. We have that conversation heading into every game about trying to embrace everyone doubting us, and just proving everyone wrong and going into the locker room and celebrating.”

“It was the whole why-not-us thing,” agreed Burns. “We’re going to keep that going. We got a lot of disrespect. People still don’t think we’re supposed to be here, that we’re going to go further. We’re going to keep trying to crash the party.”