Pack caps epic run with ACC title

NC State players hug on the floor following the Wolfpack's ACC Championship Game win over UNC (Photo by Shawn Krest)

NC State doesn’t cut down the nets as frequently as some teams. However, when they do, dear Lord, do they make up for lost time.

The Wolfpack completed an unprecedented five ACC Tournament wins in five days with an 84-76 win over North Carolina to win the ACC Championship and turn the Capital One Center court bright red with confetti.

Confetti flies as the Wolfpack celebrate the ACC title (Photo by Shawn Krest)

The Pack won their 11th ACC crown but first since 1987. They beat all three of the top seeds in the field and earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“When you think about NC State, a couple things that stand out are the ‘74 (national) championship and the ‘83 championship,” said coach Kevin Keatts. ” If we could make any of those guys proud, and hopefully, they are by what we did at the ACC’s, that’s a great thing. All the players that came before us and were so close, it’s not just our championship, it’s everybody’s championship.”

Kevin Keatts displays the net after winning the ACC Tournament (Photo by Shawn Krest)

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Embattled coach Kevin Keatts led a skeleton crew into Tuesday’s opening round game. Top scorer DJ Horne didn’t play due to a hip injury. Two other Wolfpack players didn’t even make the trip to DC. Four days later, when many expected the NC State coaching search to be in high gear, Keatts made the final cuts on the net at one end of the court, taking the scissors from his son, walk-on Kevin Jr.

“Words can’t even describe it,” said Ben Middlebrooks. “The amount we’ve come together these last five days, the adversity we’ve had. The things we’ve had to deal with these last five days. I don’t think any other team in the country could have done something like this.”

State trailed in the second half of four of the five games, including a five-point deficit with Virginia going to the line with 1:10 remaining in the semifinals. Somehow, the Wolfpack found a way to win, surviving, advancing and apparently feeling no fatigue as the playing time minutes mounted.

“I will say, my legs hurt right now,” said center DJ Burns Jr. “It’s been five days in a row, so of course guys are going to be tired. We knew that it was going to be hard–that nothing about this was going to be easy. We just had to get over ourselves and push it to the absolute limit.”

“Getting an opportunity to play at this level in this tournament and for a championship, it doesn’t matter how many overtimes, how many games you play in a row,” said UNC coach Hubert Davis. “We knew that they would play with great energy, and they did from the start and throughout the entire game.”

“We stayed together,” said Casey Morsell. “Even though we were in a hole, we always loved each other, always believed in each other. We just found a way. We never didn’t believe.”

Against Carolina, the Wolfpack got 29 points from Horne, who scored 71 points in the four tournament games he played. Burns added 20 points, most of them against UNC star center Armando Bacot. The performance, which netted Burns 76 points in the five days, earned him the tournament MVP award.

“Our biggest thing was just don’t beat ourselves,” Morsell said. “Have somebody else beat us, and if somebody’s going to beat us, they’re going to have to outplay us.”

For five days that fans and alumni will tell their grandchildren about at bedtime, no one in the ACC could.

The Wolfpack celebrates their ACC title as commissioner Jim Phillips presents them with the trophy (Photo by Shawn Krest)