Purdue ends NC State’s run

Pack loses in Final Four

North Carolina State forward DJ Burns Jr. (30) wipes his face after their loss against Purdue during a NCAA college basketball game at the Final Four, Saturday, April 6, 2024, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

PHOENIX—NC State’s March magic couldn’t last through the first week of April.

The Wolfpack’s improbable postseason run of nine straight wins ended, two wins shy of a national championship, when 1-seed Purdue beat State, 63-50, in the Final Four.

Normally, a loss in the Final Four, or, really, anytime in March, brings heartbroken players, sobbing in the locker room. While the Wolfpack players and coaches were obviously disappointed, the defeat came with a sense of optimism and accomplishment. The team was left for dead at the start of March, then went on a dramatic and unexpected run to the doorstep of the national title. The team was playing with house money and seemed to appreciate that after the ride came to an end in the desert.

“Man, to be a part of this has been everything I could have asked for,” said center DJ Burns Jr. “Didn’t go the way we wanted to go out, but man, this has been an experience like no other. It’s something that I wanted my whole life. To be able to do it with the group of people that we have is just amazing, man.”

The Pack entered the game against Purdue as decided underdogs, but that was nothing new to a team that had pulled nine straight upsets to storm to an ACC title and Final Four berth.

“They proved they belonged,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said of the Wolfpack. “The thing we tried to sell (to the players) more than anything was that we weren’t playing the team that was 17-14 at one time. We’re facing the team that’s 9-0.”

The game promised a compelling matchup of big men, with NC State center DJ Burns, who has become a national celebrity as Wolfpack wins mounted in March, facing national player of the year Zach Edey. Referees gave the bigs room to work, calling a total of just eight fouls in the first half. Unfortunately, two of them were against Burns, limiting him to just under 12 minutes.

Edey, meanwhile, had 14 first-half points and 8 rebounds, on his way to a double-double of 20 and 12 while playing all 40 minutes.

Burns heard his first whistle 57 seconds into the game and picked up a second with 6:29 left in the half.

“I didn’t do as good of a job in the first half keeping him from getting to that right hand,” Burns said. “He’s a tall guy. If you let him get to his spots, he’s going to make his shots. We cleaned it up, but it was a little too late.”

Burns picked up his third foul a minute and a half into the second half. He was able to play foul-free the rest of the way, and backup Ben Middlebrooks did a solid job keeping Edey in check, but Burns finished with just 8 points and 1 rebound.

DJ Horne and Jayden Taylor were able to keep State within striking distance, scoring 20 and 11 points, respectively, but the Pack was never able to pull in front of the Boilermakers.

In the end, though, the team that has had an answer to the most dire of March situations during a two-week run for the ages couldn’t solve Purdue.

The Pack players and coaches looked fondly on the experience of the last three weeks, however, rather than on the way it all ended.

“Man, just to be part of this has been everything I could have asked for,” said Burns.

“It’s great,” said coach Kevin Keatts. “I mean, we have a story. When you’re in any sports, you want to have a story. Look at our story. I mean, the way this story was written was unbelievable because in order to win any championships, you have to have highs and lows. We started the season with great highs, in the middle there were some lows, but equally then some highs. At the end of the regular season there were lows.”

“It’s been a long journey,” said Horne. “I’m grateful for everything that has been thrown my way. To end it with this magical run that I went on with me and my teammates, to have an ACC championship. Didn’t get the big one, but it’s definitely a big accomplishment in my career.”

“I don’t think we could have drew it up any better,” Horne continued. “If we won the whole thing, it would have been a story. I’m grateful for this experience. Not everybody gets to say they went to the Final Four. NC State did.”