The glass slipper fits…let’s go dancing!

Published 4:19 pm Tuesday, March 19, 2024

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Over the course of my adult life, I’ve been thoroughly entertained by an assortment of talented DJs. The list is probably longer, but some of the most memorable “music makers” include Jay Jenkins, Robert Earl Dilday, and Jesse Williams.

With all due respect to that particular trio of good friends, I sincerely doubt that none of them can dribble, drive, and shoot like two other DJs I know.

Last week was one for the ages when it comes to NC State athletics. Our men’s basketball team did something that no other ACC squad – in the league’s 71-year history – has ever accomplished… five games in five days and became the first double-digit seeded team (#10) to earn the title of ACC Tournament Champion.

Thanks to a team effort – highlighted by DJ Burns and DJ Horne – the Wolfpack is the 2024 league champion. And that sounds even sweeter when we add the fact that the Pack beat top-seeded UNC to claim the tournament title.

Ain’t nothing finer than beating Carolina….at any type of competition. I know the Tar Heels (players and fans) consider Duke University as their biggest rivals, but we Wolfpackers take pride in beating the Tar Heels.

To honest, I feared the worst for the Wolfpack coming into last week’s tournament. We had lost the last four regular season games on the schedule, to include setbacks vs. UNC and Duke. Because of that skid, the Pack was a #10 seed, meaning if they wanted to win the tournament it would take five straight victories.

Things started well with a 94-85 win over #15 Louisville in Tuesday’s (March 12) opening round. That advanced us to a Wednesday matchup vs. #7 Syracuse, a team that had defeated NC State twice during the regular season. But the Orange got crushed this time around as Jayden Taylor had 18 points and nine rebounds while Horne scored 11 points during a 21-4 second half run that helped the Wolfpack

hammer out an 83-65 victory.

Thanks to that win, we earned the right to face #2 Duke in Thursday’s quarterfinals. My nerves were on edge even before tip-off, knowing that the Blue Devils, with a double-bye in the tournament, had smacked us pretty good (79-64) in our final home game of the regular season, plus they were coming off a loss vs. UNC in their highly-touted regular season finale.

So, how do we beat Duke? Balanced scoring was the answer as we placed five in double figures: Horne with 18; Mohamed Diarra with 14 points and 16 rebounds, Michael O’Connell adds 12 points, and Burns finished with 10….dispatching the Dookies, 74-69.

That earned us a spot in Friday’s semifinals vs. #3 Virginia. The Cavaliers, with their rugged defense, posed a problem and led by six with under 50 seconds left. But by exercising the spirits of the 1983 NCSU squad, this 2024 version of the “Cardiac Pack” ties the game on O’Connell’s buzzer beating three-pointer (that rolled around the rim three times before falling gently into the net) and then Burns went to work in overtime (scoring seven points) and it’s bye-bye to the Wahoos, 66-60.

And who does that leave standing between us and history? Carolina, of course. But as Horne had stated prior to the start of the tournament….“Why not us?”

With a tournament MVP performance by Burns (20 points, to include the first-ever three-pointer of his collegiate career, to go along with seven assists), plus 29 points by Horne, 11 points and 13 rebounds from Diarra, and 10 points by O’Connell, we beat the ‘Heels, 84-76.

Burns was nearly unstoppable in the post and his rugged play reminded me of a comment made last month by UNC center Armando Bacot. After the Heels defeated Duke in their first matchup, he bragged: “(The) ACC runs through me.”

Mr. Bacot, you are 100 percent correct as this past Saturday, DJ Burns ran through you, around you, and over you.

The last time NC State had the opportunity to hoist the ACC Tournament trophy was in 1987. While we were 17-13 overall in the regular season that year, we had a losing record in league play (6-8). That regulated us to a #6 seed (in an 8-team field), but we upset third-seeded and nationally-ranked Duke, 71-64 in overtime, and followed that with a double-overtime win, 77-73, vs. Wake Forest. That sent the Pack to the title game where, of course, Carolina awaits. The mighty Tar Heels (28-2 overall and 14-0 in the ACC) were ranked second nationally. And guess what happens? The Pack pulls off the upset, 68-67.

And who can ever forget the original Cardiac Pack? The 1982-83 squad, under the late, great Jim Valvano, had to win the ACC tournament just to get an invite to the Big Dance (the same scenario this year and in ’87). We edged Wake, 71-70, in the opener, beat nationally fifth-ranked UNC, 91-84, in overtime, and then upset nationally second-ranked Virginia – led by Ralph Sampson – 81-78 in the title game.

Then the improbable follows the impossible. NCSU pulls a rabbit out of their hat and somehow manages to win six straight (including back-to-back nailbiters vs. Pepperdine and UNLV in the opening two games) and edged Virginia, 63-62, in the regional finals. Then we have an easy time vs. Georgia in the Final Four before pulling off one of the biggest upsets of all time, beating top-seeded Houston, 54-52, on a last second dunk by Lorenzo Charles for the national championship.

For full disclosure, I partied on Hillsborough Street that night, watching the sun come up.

The party begins again this week with the start of the 2024 NCAA Men’s Tournament. The Wolfpack, with its automatic bid as the ACC Champion, is the #11 seed (22-14 overall) and will meet #6 Texas Tech (23-10) on Thursday in Pittsburgh in the South Region’s first round slate of games.

Congratulations to ‘Carolina and their #1 seed in the West Regional (a Thursday opener vs. the winner of Howard/Wagner. Duke (seeded #4 in the South Region) and Clemson (#6 in the West Region) also received invitations to the tournament. They will respectively play #13 Vermont and #11 New Mexico in this week’s opening round.

Virginia is in the Big Dance, but has to play in one of the “First Four” games in an effort to advance to the field of 64. They will face Colorado State on Tuesday from where the winner advances to face Texas, the #2 seed in the Mid West Regional, on Thursday.

Good luck to all teams from the ACC.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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