DALLAS – As the trophy was raised the nets came down, the delirious delegation of NC State fans who turned American Airlines Center into a home-away-from-home game began to chant.

“Why not us!? Why not us,” they shouted over and over, getting louder with each chorus.

It’s a question that was first asked by coach Kevin Keatts and his players in Washington, DC, after an opening round ACC Tournament victory against Louisville that extended their season for at least 1 more day.

That was 19 days ago. And the Wolfpack are still playing.

Win the conference championship and the automatic NCAA bid that goes along with it?

Improbable. But true.

Win 2 games to get to the Sweet 16, then knock off 2nd-seeded Marquette to make it to the Elite Eight?


But take down Duke for the 2nd time in 3 weeks and advance to the Final Four for the 1st time since that miracle championship run in 1983?

Sure, why not?

It took a Herculean 29-point effort from South Region Most Outstanding Player DJ Burns and a dominant 2nd half to pull it off, but the 11th-seeded Wolfpack continued to defy both the odds and believability on Sunday.

They extended their magical mystery tour all the way to Glendale, Ariz., where they’ll play Purdue in the national semifinals next week, by roaring to a 76-65 victory against the 4th-seeded Blue Devils that has become too familiar to be called a surprise.


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“It’s a miracle run, but we’re not surprised,” said Keatts, who has gone from potentially coaching for his job at the start of the month to earning a 2-year contract extension and $300,000 in bonuses by the time it ended.

“We didn’t come into this tournament saying, ‘hey, let’s just try to be here.’ We came here to win and we did.”

That sounds reasonable and logical enough.

Until you say it out loud, which senior wing Casey Morsell did for the 1st time in a giddy, loud, water-soaked locker room shortly after the game had ended and the celebration began.

“I’m still trying to put everything into words,” said the longest-tenured member of the Wolfpack, clutching a bottle of Gatorade in one hand and a “March Madness” placard torn from a wall in the other. “It’s been a crazy season. It’s been a roller coaster (with) a lot of ups and downs. But we got it going and stayed connected throughout the good and bad.

“It’s been amazing. We’ve been on this run … man, we’ve just got to embrace it.”

America has already done its share of embracing the Wolfpack. Especially their super-sized star.

The 6-9, 300 something-pound center had already become the darling of this NCAA Tournament long before he joyously skipped onto the court for Sunday’s region final. He further endeared himself while adding to his cult hero status by going right at Duke big man Kyle Filipowski from the opening possession.

And neither Filipowski, who fouled out with 4:52 remaining, or anyone else Blue Devils’ coach Jon Scheyer asked to guard Burns was able to do anything to stop him.

He made 13-of-19 field goal attempts and scored 21 of his points in a 2nd half that saw the Wolfpack shoot a blistering 73.1% from the floor and withstood a potential momentum-shifting technical foul on Keatts to outscore Duke 55-37 and turn a 6-point halftime deficit into a convincing double-digit victory.

It was the kind of performance that evoked comparisons to the unexpected national championship run of Jim Valvano’s Cardiac Pack 4 decades ago. In reality, there are more similarities to the title path taken by UConn on the way to its unexpected title in 2011.

But this State team, whose final story is still being written, does share at least one common trait with their school’s most beloved team.

Or as Morsell called it, Wolfpack Royalty.

It’s that no matter what the circumstances or how implausible the task at hand might seem, they don’t give up.

They don’t ever give up.

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“I would say in tough situations, you rise to the level of your training,” Burns said. “And our coaches prepared us well.”

The Wolfpack has been especially adept at adapting to whatever challenges that are thrown at them. With any number of different players rising to the occasion when the situation arises.

Sunday’s region championship-clinching win was no different.

With rebounding machine Mohamed Diarra held to only 3 points and 7 rebounds because of foul trouble and the physical limitations of his Ramadan fast, 6-2 guard Michael O’Connell helped take up the slack by recording a career-high 11 rebounds.

Ben Middlebrooks didn’t just help to hold Filipowski to just 3 field goals on 12 attempts with 3 turnovers, his pesky presence also drew 3 of the 5 fouls called on Duke’s first-team All-ACC big man.

Morsell was 4-of-4 from the line down the stretch to supplement the combined 49-point scoring punch of the 2 DJs – Burns and shooting guard DJ Horne.

“These guys are really locked in,” Keatts said. “They’re really a close-knit bunch. The memories they’re creating are going to last a lifetime. That’s what makes it really special.”

And they’re not done yet.

As has been the case in 7 of the 9 games of their postseason winning streak, State will be an underdog when it takes on Purdue at 6:09 pm ET next Saturday. The Boilermakers have already been set as a 9.5-point favorite by ESPN BET sportsbook.

Beating them and earning a shot at the most improbable national championship ever will be a tall task, especially since their best player, Zach Edey, stands 7-4 tall. But as far as the Wolfpack has come already, nothing is a surprise anymore.

So why not?