N.C. State beats No. 4 North Carolina to win the ACC Tournament and earn an automatic NCAA bid


WASHINGTON — DJ Horne scored 29 points, forward DJ Burns Jr. had 20, including the first 3-pointer of his college career, and North Carolina State is returning to the NCAA Tournament after beating fourth-ranked North Carolina 84-76 in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament title game Saturday night.

Led by the two DJs, 10th-seeded N.C. State capped an improbable run, knocking off the Tar Heels who have looked like a national championship contender for much of the season. Horne starred while playing 32 minutes through foul trouble, going shot for shot with UNC’s unanimous ACC player of the year RJ Davis, who was spectacular with 30 points.

As he encouraged cheers from the crowd, fans in red chanted, “DJ Horne! DJ Horne!” when he fouled out with 1:11 left.

“I can’t even put it into words right now,” Horne said. “Just a week ago, it was looking like our season was about to be over, and here we are now, man, on top of the world.”

But he’s not done playing basketball this season.

After coach Kevin Keatts said repeatedly his team was one of many needing to win the tournament to make the NCAAs, his Wolfpack (22-14) won the ACC Tournament for the first time since 1987 under Jim Valvano, when it was played outside Washington in Landover, Maryland.

That one came in a similar fashion: against the top-seeded and regular-season champion Tar Heels, who had beaten the Wolfpack twice that season, just like this year.

The Wolfpack snatched an automatic bid, bursting someone’s bubble and giving the ACC at least a fourth team in the NCAA Tournament along with locks UNC, Duke and Clemson. Virginia, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest are among the teams who will be sweating out Selection Sunday.

That won’t be the case for UNC (27-7), which likely shored up a top seed for March Madness by reaching the final with a rout of Florida State, then getting a starring performance from Davis to beat Pitt in the semifinals. Davis, Armando Bacot and their teammates won the ACC regular-season title but went cold down the stretch on Saturday, missing 12 consecutive shots down the stretch.

The Wolfpack, who came in on a four-game skid, became the first team to win five games in the ACC Tournament. They were the only team since it became a five-day event to even reach the final after playing on Tuesday, beating Louisville, Syracuse, Duke and Virginia and then UNC as a double-digit underdog.

“Like I said from the jump, man, why not us?” Horne said.

The fatigue of playing a fifth game in as many days, including overtime in the semifinals, was noticeable at times. But N.C. State muscled through it, with plenty of bulk inside from Burns, a 6-foot-9, 260-pound fifth-year senior.

In addition to backing down Bacot for several baskets and tying his career high with seven assists, his 3 with the shot clock running out in the first half was his first from beyond the arc in his 160th college game. He shimmied back down the court, and now he and his teammates will be dancing in the NCAA Tournament.

N.C. State: Talk about Keatts losing his job will likely subside, and now the Wolfpack will try to pull off the NCAA Tournament win they couldn’t last year, when as an 11 seed they lost to Creighton.

UNC: Despite the defeat, the Tar Heels are still one of the country’s best teams and won’t be an easy out for any opponent. This was their first loss since Feb. 13, and as Pitt coach Jeff Capel said, “They’re relentless, they’re old (and) they’re good.”

UNC and N.C. State will both be playing in the NCAA Tournament starting next week.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball



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