50 years after battling for a championship, State hopes to continue unforeseen ride against Marquette :: WRALSportsFan.com

50 years after battling for a championship, State hopes to continue unforeseen ride against Marquette :: WRALSportsFan.com

North Carolina State WolfpackNorth Carolina State Wolfpack
Marquette Golden Eagles8Marquette Golden Eagles
CBS | Friday, March 29th 7:09 PM EDT

— NC State will face Marquette on Friday night in the Sweet 16 in Dallas.

It’s not a situation anyone predicted two weeks ago, but the Wolfpack have been pardoned from a pedestrian regular season with a chance to build on a memorable run for a proud program known for overcoming obstacles.

For State fans, the matchup evokes memories of the 1974 national championship, when the David Thompson-led Wolfpack won their first title against the Golden Eagles in Greensboro. The two schools haven’t faced off since Dec. 5, 2009, when State won 77-73 in Milwaukee.

State, winners of seven straight games, have ridden DJ Burns and DJ Horne along with a breakout performance from Ben Middlebrooks to its first second-weekend NCAA Tournament appearance since 2015. After gaining redemption with five wins in five days during the ACC Tournament, the lights are now brighter.

Last week, two wins in Pittsburgh ended any under-the-radar profile the Wolfpack had on a national scale, as Burns’ media obligations have increased significantly in recent weeks and his fan favorite persona is back at the forefront.

“It’s been kind of crazy going from having almost zero media attention to a camera following you around all day,” Burns said. “It’s been cool, but you know, definitely noticed it. Hard to miss it.”

When meeting with the media on Thursday, coach Kevin Keatts illustrated what makes his team divergent is what’s made their improbable run come alive.

“We got here because we’re very unique,” Keatts said. “I think because we’re different, that’s actually helped us. How often are you going to play against a post guy that’s a lefty with a great touch that can really pass on the double-team?”

State lost seven of its last nine regular season games before beating Louisville, Syracuse, Duke, Virginia and North Carolina to win its first ACC championship since 1987. To stay alive Friday, State is faced with guarding Marquette point guard Tyler Kolek and leading scorer Kam Jones, who have played together for three seasons and led the Eagles to a second-place finish in the Big East.

“That’s a major challenge for us because in order for us to have success, we have to do a good job of controlling those guys and they play extremely well,” Keatts said. “They play extremely well together. They’re older. They understand they have played together. That’s something that you can’t substitute.”

The Cinderella run has drawn comparisons to 1983’s title with Keatts and various players being reminded of it by fans and those around the program.

“I think our guys listen to that,” Keatts said. “We try to focus on being who we are now. It’s a little bit different than when they went through, but it’s certainly paying off for us.”

The Eagles (27-9) beat No. 10 seed Colorado 81-77 in a back-and-forth second round game.

When asked about Burns, Kolek provided an interesting point of reference.

“We’re watching film today and he hit like a spin fade-away, kind of like Escalade from the AND1 mixtapes,” Kolek said. “He is good, though. He is super skilled.”

Tip-off is scheduled for 7:09 p.m. at American Airlines Center.

Source: wralsportsfan.com